Geneva, 28 June 2023 - Despite the significant disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, United Nations human rights treaty bodies are increasingly considering issues affecting LGBTI people and releasing ground-breaking decisions about them, new research by ILGA World shows.
The publications released today look at the past three years of activities within the United Nations Treaty Bodies, indicating that - in 2022 alone – these mechanisms included a record-high number of 218 references to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) in concluding observations to States. The figure is even more significant when compared to the 139 references during 2020 and 2021, when the Covid-19 pandemic significantly got in the way of progress and forced Treaty Bodies and activists to reduce their activities – including by postponing or cancelling several sessions.
UN Treaty Bodies are independent committees of experts that monitor how States comply with international human rights law treaties they have a legal obligation to implement, offer recommendations on how States can do so more effectively, assess the progress made, and identify concerns. Alongside the analytical reports and compilations of references for the years 2020 to 2022, ILGA World also has released simplified versions of the Annual Treaty Bodies Reports, aiming at providing vital information in a nutshell to grassroots activists.
“Since 2014, when we started to analyse Treaty Bodies’ work, the number of SOGIESC-inclusive references has more than quadrupled,” flags Kseniya Kirichenko, UN Programme Manager at ILGA World. “None of these international treaties explicitly mention LGBTI people – a reflection of a bygone time when this human rights discourse was not yet developed. And yet, experts increasingly recognise how crucial it is for the United Nations to address these topics and to ensure that they are enshrined in international human rights law”.
The decisions of these mechanisms are having a real-life impact on LGBTI communities. In 2022, in its groundbreaking decisions in Flamer-Caldera v Sri Lanka, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) found that the criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual activity between women violates a number of State’s obligations in relation to women’s rights. The Committee called for the decriminalisation of such acts and for comprehensive measures to protect lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex women. Months after this decision, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court gave the green light to a decriminalisation bill, which will now have to go through parliament.
“Treaty Bodies provide civil society with an effective advocacy mechanism whenever States do not meet their obligations,” reflects Gurchaten Sandhu, Director of Programmes at ILGA World. “The more human rights defenders engage with Treaty Bodies to document the situation on the ground, the more relevant recommendations are made, and the more positive changes we see. This is a slow, yet significant path towards equality that many activists can decide to walk.”
The latest annual Treaty Bodies reports released by ILGA World show that, during the past three years, more historic developments have taken place. In 2021, the Committee on the Rights of the Child found that Finland failed to consider the best interests of the child of a lesbian couple when rejecting their asylum request: this was the first asylum-related case from the UN system involving a child facing specific risks, in his country of origin, on the ground of his mothers' sexual orientation. In 2020, CEDAW recognised that Russia failed to protect a lesbian couple who had survived a hate crime on the ground of their sexual orientation. In 2022, during its review of Mongolia, a Treaty Bodies mechanism made its first reference to the ICD-11 - the latest International Classification of Diseases, calling on the country to uphold the human rights of trans persons.
Moreover, between 2020 and 2022, Treaty Bodies found human rights violations against LGBTI persons in at least eight cases brought to their consideration through individual communications.
“Engaging with United Nations mechanisms can seem daunting at times,” ILGA World co-Secretaries General Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown point out. “However, it is also an extraordinary opportunity for LGBTI activists to raise their concerns with an international mechanism and to see their State authorities receive official recommendations from it. This is how decisions made at the global level can be informed by grassroots civil society and can bring actual change for people on the ground. ILGA World will continue to support our communities everywhere to ensure they can see progress happening”.
Treaty Bodies (Committees) are committees of independent experts appointed to review the implementation by State parties of nine core international human rights treaties.
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) monitors the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969);
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976);
Human Rights Committee (HRCtee) monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976);
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979);
Committee against Torture (CAT) monitors the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (1987);
Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990);
Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) monitors the implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (2003);
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) monitors the implementation of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008);
Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) monitors the implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2010).
Concluding Observations are the observations and recommendations issued by a Treaty Body after it has considered a State party’s report and reports submitted by civil society organisations, and had a dialogue with the State.
Country reviews are a process whereby the Treaty Bodies review the implementation of specific treaties by State parties. After the ratification of a treaty, a State has to provide reports on its implementation periodically. Concluding Observations are the outcome of these reviews
Reference means a unit of the analysis under ILGA World’s methodology. It is a cluster of text referring to positive developments, concerns or recommendations on SOGIESC / LGBTI human rights in Treaty Bodies’ concluding observations
Recommendations are particular measures and activities recommended, suggested or required from a State by a committee. A recommendation could be a part of a reference, but not every reference includes recommendations