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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 2, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 09
UN Human Rights Council: Landmark Report and Panel on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Section One
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UN Human Rights Council: Landmark Report and Panel on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

(March 7, 2012) Today, the Human Rights Council in Geneva held the
first-ever formal UN inter-governmental debate on violence and
discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)
people. The panel discussion (sponsored by South Africa and Brazil) was
moderated by the Ambassador of South Africa and featured panelists from
Brazil, Pakistan, Sweden and the United States.

The panel arose out of the UN Human Rights Council resolution 17/19 (June
2011) expressing "grave concern" at acts of violence and discrimination
based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It requested the High
Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on "how international
human rights law can be used to end violence and related human rights
violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity", and called
for a panel discussion at this (19th) session of the Human Rights Council
to discuss the findings of the report in a "constructive, informed and
transparent dialogue".

Activists from all continents gathered in Geneva for this historic moment,
and others watched from their computers around the world. A video message
from UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, opened the event and set the tone
for the members of the Human Rights Council, but also spoke directly to
LGBT persons, stating that:

"To those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, let me say: You
are not alone. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is
a shared struggle. Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values
the United Nations and I have sworn to defend and uphold. Today, I stand
with you ... and I call upon all countries and people to stand with you,

Following the video message, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Navanethem Pillay, presented her groundbreaking report documenting
discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals
based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, released in late
2011. Ms. Pillay noted in her speech that:

"The story of the United Nations is a story of progress in the fight
against discrimination. It is a story that is incomplete, as we continue
to work to make good on the promise enshrined in our Universal
Declaration: a world where 'all human beings are born free and equal in
dignity and rights.' Today we all have an opportunity to begin together a
new chapter dedicated to ending violence and discrimination against all
people, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity."

All panelists commended the OHCHR report, and noted that abuses on these
grounds occur in every country of the world, and that every government
without exception is duty-bound to protect the rights of all of its
citizens. Lesbian, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are not
exempt from these protections. Hina Jilani (Pakistan) highlighted the
Supreme Court of Pakistan's decision around transgendered persons
concerning their right to identity, noting that solutions can emerge from
countries where violations are still occurring. Other panelists included
Laurence Hefler (United States), Hans Ytterberg (Sweden) and Irina Bacci
(Brazil). Ms. Bacci, a civil society representative on the panel,
highlighted the work of NGOs noting that if there were no networks to
mobilize complaints of violations of LGBTI people, we would not have
knowledge of these tragedies.

Powerful civil society statements were delivered in response to the panel
and report, beginning with a statement on behalf of 11 National Human
Rights Institutions, including those from Mongolia, New Zealand, Thailand
and Nicaragua. NHRIs affirmed the legal analysis of the OHCHR report which
"makes it clear that the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of
sexual orientation and gender identity is integrated and reflected in the
existing international legal framework that States have committed to

Kasha Jaqueline from CAL (Coalition of African Lesbians) delivered a
statement, noting that "(W)e as African LGBTI activists are not asking for
any new or special rights, we are simply asking that our African
governments live up to their obligations under international and regional
instruments and their own national constitutions; all of which recognise
equality and non-discrimination for all citizens."

Highlighting particular experiences of violence and discrimination based
on gender identity, Justus Eisfeld from GATE (Global Advocate for Trans
Equality) noted in their statement to the Council that "(T)rans* people
get beaten, raped and murdered in the streets and in our homes, by
strangers and by our own families."

Linda Baumann, delivered a statement, on behalf of ILGA's 917 members
worldwide, and jointly endorsed by 284 NGOs from 90 countries, from
diverse cultures and religions, and by mainstream allies and supporters.
In it, she welcomed the High Commissioner's Report stating "it poignantly
addresses human rights violations that have been highlighted by UN Special
Rapporteurs and treaty bodies for close to two decades." Ms. Baumann also
commented on the walk-out by some States during the panel. "States may
walk out of this room, but they may never walk away from the
responsibility to protect their own citizens from discrimination and

"Human rights are universal," stated Alli Jernow, in a statement on behalf
of ICJ, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. "This means that
everyone, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,
is entitled to the full range of all human rights, including the rights to
life, to be free from arbitrary detention, to security of person and
protection from torture. These rights belong to all of us."

Ambassador Abdul Minty from the Permanent Mission of South Africa
concluded the panel by picking up on comments from the African NGO
statement affirming the African philosophy of *ubuntu* and further
articulating its meaning being "I am because you are." The Brazilian
Ambassador also noted in her concluding remarks that even though many have
highlighted the panel as historic, addressing these violations should be
part of the regular ongoing work of the UN.

Other activists participating in this Human Rights Council in Geneva from
a diversity of regions offered the following comments concerning the

Germaine Leonin, with the Rainbow Rights Project in the Philippines
stated, "As Asian LGBTQIs, we are reclaiming our rightful space in our
respective countries and call on the United Nations system and
international human rights mechanisms to ask all its member States to
promote and protect of the equal rights of all people regardless of SOGI."

Cynthia Rothschild, a sexual rights activist based in the United States
notes, "Violations against lesbians are often invisible, whether in the
global north or the south. Today the highest levels of the UN human rights
machinery publicly acknowledged that abuses of lesbians must be prevented
and punished."

Chrystabelle Beaton, LGBT Platform Suriname, affirms that "Human rights
are universal and also in Suriname LGBT persons should be able to enjoy
that right free from stigma and discrimination. Therefore the LGBT
Platform Suriname combines its forces to undertake steps in assuring each
LGBT individual to live in peace and security."

Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel, from the LGBT Centre of Mongolia noted that,
"We are silently suffering under familial and social pressures, threats
from ultra-nationalists, lack of knowledge on sexual orientation and
gender identity among the general public and most important of all, under
the lawless environment. It is Member States' job to represent every
single citizen of their countries in the Human Rights Council and they
must not let the sexual minorities suffer silently any longer than we have

"We affirm the need to bear diverse religious and cultural backgrounds in
mind as stated in the Vienna Declaration, but we are increasingly
concerned that the OIC is passing from the principle that religion must be
'borne in mind' with regard to human rights, to making supreme a single
interpretation of religion in international laws. As powerfully expressed
by Navi Pillay at the start of this panel discussion, the Vienna
Declaration comes out clearly on the side of human rights," stated Sunila
Abeysekera on behalf of ISHR, in solidarity with Women Living Under Muslim
Laws, the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies,
among others.

John Fisher, with ARC International in Geneva, noted that "Although some
States expressed their disagreement with the panel, support for the rights
of those facing violations because of their sexual orientation and gender
identity continues to increase, thanks to the tireless advocacy of
courageous human rights defenders around the world."


ARC International, Kim Vance (Canada) +1-902-488-6404 or or John Fisher (Geneva) +41 79 508-3968 or

CAL (Coalition of African Lesbians), Fikile Vilakazi (South Africa) +27 11
918 2182 or

COC Nederland, Björn van Roozendaal (Netherlands) +31 6 22 55 83 00 or

Cynthia Rothschild (United States)  +41-76-639-6170

GATE - Global Action for Trans* Equality, Justus Eisfeld (United States)
+1 (646) 341-1699 or

Human Rights Institute of South Africa , Corlett Letlojane (South Africa)
+ 27 11 492 0568

IGLHRC - International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica
Stern (Unites States) +1 917 355-3262 or

International Commission of Jurists, Allison Jernow (Geneva) +41(0)22 979
3800) or

ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex
Association), Linda Baumann (Namibia) +264 81 252-8259 or or Renato Sabbadini, +32 474 857 950 or

International Service for Human Rights, Bjorn Pettersson (Geneva) +41 22
919 71 17 or

LGBT Centre, Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel (Mongolia), +976 9585 3419 or

LGBT Platform, Chrystabelle Beaton (Suriname)

Rainbow Rights Project (R-Rights), Inc., Germaine Leonin (Philippines) +63
927 785-2892 or

UHAI- the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, Wanja Muguongo
(Kenya) +254 20 2330050

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