UN Report on LGBT Human Rights, part 2Bottom Highlights, Feature Story Monday, January 23rd, 2012
In this second part of San Diego LGBT Weekly’s look at the recent inaugural report from the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, questions have inevitably been raised about what needs to be done on a global basis to protect LGBT people worldwide.
Among its conclusions, the report maintains that, “… on the basis of the information presented … a pattern of human rights violations emerges that demands a response. Governments and inter-governmental bodies have often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The mandate of the Human Rights Council requires it to address this gap; the Council should promote ‘universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner.’”
Dr. Aaron Bruce, chief diversity officer for San Diego State University says that the U.S. can take the lead in addressing the global problem. “I think President Obama’s recent memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons is an excellent starting point for significant global human rights action.”
But initiating international dialog is also important. Says Bruce, “To proactively engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination is a powerful move for this administration and our country to make. President Obama’s memo sets the tone for potential economic penalties or embargos associated with countries that choose to violate the rights of the LGBT community.”
Adds Bruce, “I am most interested in reviewing the anticipated progress reports from agencies engaged abroad including the Departments of State, the Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Export Import Bank, the United States Trade Representative, and such other agencies as the president may designate. The reports that should be released in the next 180 days will give us a better idea of what is really being done.”
Human rights organizations also need to get involved. Adds Michael Cole-Schwartz of the Human Rights Commission, “HRC will continue to work with the U.S. State Department to ensure that the human rights of LGBT people are included in U.S. foreign policy pursuits. While our country still has a long way to go before LGBT Americans are treated equally at home, our State Department must continue to serve as a leader in the U.N. on speaking out against human rights abuses of LGBT individuals and speaking up in support of the decriminalization of same-sex relationships abroad.”
Some critics contend that, while it is all well and good to have a global plan and international dialog, the problem is all-too-real for the LGBT community on a local level.
Says Charles Radcliffe, global issues section chief for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, “LGBT human rights defenders are increasingly making their voices heard at a national level, often at great personal risk. The broader human rights community and national human rights institutions should stand with them. International support can help but needs to be developed in close consultation with advocates on the ground to ensure it meets local needs and aspirations. The U.N. can also help by bringing human rights violations to light, reminding states of their responsibilities under international human rights law and working with them to bring national laws and practices in line with international standards.”
The report maintains that LGBT people are often targets of organized abuse from religious extremists, paramilitary groups, neo-Nazis, extreme nationalists and others, as well as family and community violence, with lesbians and transgender women at particular risk. It is of considerable concern that, as the report says, violent incidents or acts of discrimination frequently go unreported because victims do not trust police, are afraid of reprisals, or are unwilling to identify themselves as LGBT.
The report adds, “Homophobic and transphobic violence has been recorded in all regions. Such violence may be physical (including murder, beatings, kidnappings, rape and sexual assault) or psychological (including threats, coercion and arbitrary deprivations of liberty). These attacks constitute a form of gender-based violence, driven by a desire to punish those seen as defying gender norms.”
Says SDSU’s Bruce, “It is difficult to say how prevalent persecution is locally. I guess that depends on whether we compare it to the rest of the world. Compared to South Africa where gay marriage is legalized it is easy to see that we have much further to go. However, when we look at Uganda, Russia and Nigeria who are attempting to pass blatantly discriminatory laws it is a bit easier to see where we fit on the spectrum of social justice and human rights.”
Speaking specifically of the United States, Radcliffe adds, “The report did not look at the situation country by country, so there is no specific focus on the situation in the United States. Even so, the report does pick up on evidence of hate motivated violence directed at LGBT people in the U.S. Both the official hate crime statistics produced by the FBI and data gathered by non-governmental organizations point to a continued high-level of homophobic and transphobic violence, including at least 22 murders last year alone. According to official statistics, hate-motivated incidents against LGBT people rank second only to racist incidents and on a par with incidents directed at people on the basis of religious affiliation. The U.S. also has a patchwork of state laws that offer varying levels of and in some cases no protection against discrimination, making it possible in some parts of the country, for example, for an employer to fire or refuse to hire or promote someone simply because of their sexuality.”
With regard to the international nature of the problem, Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights in the report calls on countries to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality, abolish the death penalty for offenses involving consensual sexual relations, harmonize the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual conduct, and enact comprehensive anti-discrimination laws. The report maintains that, in 76 countries it remains illegal to engage in same-sex conduct and in at least five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – the death penalty prevails.
Adds Cole-Schwartz, “The conditions for LGBT individuals in many places, like the U.S., Mongolia and India, are getting better. However, in countries like Uganda, Nigeria and Moldova, we have seen American evangelicals and sham scientists – like Lou Engle, Scott Lively and Paul Cameron – stoking the fires of anti-LGBT sentiments. We must pay attention to and expose the exportation of hate from America when it occurs.”
With so much continued international pressure on LGBT rights, it is easy to see how some people think the trend is far from positive with regard to LGBT human rights.
Radcliffe disagrees, saying, “Progress is always uneven and usually accompanied by some level of pushback. But the overall trend is positive. Some 30 countries have decriminalized homosexuality in the past two decades, dozens more have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and we have also seen increasing awareness on the part of governments when it comes to the human rights of transgender people. Social attitudes have undergone a remarkable shift across Europe – a process that is now playing out in both North, Central and South America and in some other parts of the world as well. Civil society is increasingly vocal at the national level and activists are now connected as never before through the Internet and social media, creating the basis for a powerful global movement.”
Adds Radcliffe of the U.N.’s role, “We are starting to see this change reflected at the U.N., where the past year has seen the adoption of the first ever U.N. resolution and release of the first U.N. report on the human rights situation of LGBT people worldwide. The number of U.N. member states signing onto statements expressing concern at human rights violations against LGBT people, has grown from 54 to 85 in the past five years.”
However, it is a constant battle to continue forward progress. Adds Radcliffe, “But for every two steps forward there is often one back, occasionally two. Ultimately, there is no alternative to reaching out to all states, especially those most resistant to discussion, and trying to bring as many as possible to the point where they recognize their responsibility to protect the human rights of LGBT people.”
Says SDSU’s Bruce, “I cannot say whether or not there is a global trend leaning toward going backwards. I do believe that opposition to LGBTI rights is making their voice heard globally. The progress of LGBTI rights in a variety of areas can be measured through the ILGA at ilga.org/ilga/en/index.html.”
Concludes the report, “With the adoption in June 2011 of resolution 17/19, the Council formally expressed its ‘grave concern’ regarding violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Further action is now needed, especially at the national level, if individuals are to be better protected from such human rights violations in future.”
Whatever the progress or the trend, the report is set to be discussed by U.N. Councilmembers at a meeting in March.
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