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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 23, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 51
U.N. issues landmark report on LGBT rights
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U.N. issues landmark report on LGBT rights

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The United Nations called on governments to protect LGBT people, repeal discriminatory laws, and prosecute hate crimes in its first-ever report on LGBT rights, issued December 15.

'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),' said the report by the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay.

The findings of the report will be presented for discussion at the Human Rights Council in March 2012.

One of the most important recommendations is a call for the decriminalization of same-sex relations between consenting adults.

The report also notes the particular experiences of Lesbians and other women who suffer violence, killings, rape, and abuse, often at the hands of family and community. The report includes a call for protection and recognition of the self-identified gender of Trans persons.

The U.N. urged governments to recognize persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for refugee status, and to train government officials to be sensitive to the unique challenges faced by LGBT refugees.

The report also pointed out that LGBT refugees are extremely vulnerable to violence, both before they flee their homelands and during the refugee status determination and resettlement process.

It also calls for a more consistent approach for safeguarding the human rights of LGBT refugees. For example, it urges governments not to return LGBT refugees to countries they have fled, where their rights will be threatened because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The U.N. Human Rights Council commissioned the report in June, after passing a resolution recognizing equal rights for LGBT people and condemning discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation.

The resolution was introduced by South Africa, which has included LGBT protections in its constitution, but many African and Middle Eastern countries opposed it while the U.S., Latin American, and European countries supported it.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her historic speech to the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva on December 6, said 'it should never be a crime to be Gay.'

The new report was welcomed by the IGLHRC, an NGO that works closely with the U.N. and its member states to promote LGBT rights.

'The report is a tribute to all of the activists who have fought for recognition of homophobic violence and Transphobic discrimination over decades, often in the face of extreme hostility,' IGLHRC's acting executive director, Jessica Stern, said.

'It will serve as an invaluable aid to each one of us who seeks to advance LGBT rights - not only at the United Nations but in cities and towns around the world.'

Jabu Pereira, IGLHRC program coordinator for Africa, added that 'the report will send a strong message to those African governments which continue to criminalize Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender persons under the guise of culture, religion, and sovereignty.'

The U.N. Human Rights Council found a high level of violence directed against LGBT people, and said that it tends to be especially vicious, with 'a high degree of cruelty' including mutilation and castration. In addition to spontaneous 'street' violence, people perceived as being LGBT may be targets of organized abuse, 'including by religious extremists, paramilitary groups, neo-Nazis, and extreme nationalists,' the U.N. report said.

Members of sexual minorities are disproportionately subjected to torture, often in custody, the report added.

It cited allegations that in a police station in Indonesia, a man and his male partner were severely beaten and sexually assaulted a day after having been attacked by civilians. A Lesbian couple in Brazil were allegedly beaten at a police station and forced to perform oral sex, according to the report.

The report noted that in the past year, Gay men have been murdered in Sweden and the Netherlands, while a homeless Transgender woman was killed in Portugal. Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender women in El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan, and South Africa have been targeted for gang rapes, family violence, and murder.

Women are also victims of so-called 'honor killings' carried out by relatives or community members who believe their same-sex relationships have brought shame on their families, according to the 25-page report.

Currently 76 countries have laws that criminalize sexual orientation or gender identity, the report said.

'Such laws, including so-called 'sodomy laws,' are often relics of colonial-era legislation. & Penalties range from short-term to life imprisonment and even the death penalty,' it said.

'In at least five countries, the death penalty may be applied to those found guilty of offences relating to consensual, adult homosexual conduct,' the U.N. said.

The report did not identify the countries, but activists named them as Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen. Areas of Nigeria and Somalia also impose the death penalty for homosexual practices, they said.

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