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by Rex Wockner
Sixty-six nations at the UN General Assembly supported a groundbreaking statement Dec. 18 confirming that international human rights protections include sexual orientation and gender identity.
It was the first time a statement condemning rights abuses against GLBT people was presented in the General Assembly. It was read into the record by Argentine Ambassador Jorge Argueello.
The 66 countries affirmed “the principle of non-discrimination, which requires that human rights apply equally to every human being regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” and denounced “violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization and prejudice … because of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The statement also called for the decriminalization of gay sex, which is banned in at least 77 nations and punishable by death in at least seven of them — Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
“To love is not a crime,” said Louis-Georges Tin, president of the International Day Against Homophobia Committee, which initiated the process that led to the statement. “To decriminalize homosexuality worldwide is a battle for human rights. … This (statement) is a great achievement (but) I also want to remind everyone that ending the criminalization of same-sex love will be a long, hard battle.”
Leading British activist Peter Tatchell called the statement “history in the making.”
“The UN statement goes much further than seeking the decriminalization of same-sex acts,” Tatchell said. “It condemns all human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, urges countries to protect the human rights of LGBT people and to bring to justice those who violate these rights, and calls for human rights defenders who oppose homophobic and transphobic victimization to be allowed to carry out their advocacy and humanitarian work unimpeded.”
The signatories overcame strong opposition from a group of governments that routinely try to block UN attention to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Fifty-seven nations signed an alternative statement, promoted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, that affirmed the “principles of non-discrimination and equality,” but said universal human rights do not include “the attempt to focus on the rights of certain persons” because “the notion of orientation spans a wide range of personal choices that expand way beyond the individual’s sexual interest in copulatory behavior with normal consenting adult human beings, thereby ushering in the social normalization, and possibly legitimization of many deplorable acts.”
The countries that signed the pro-gay statement are Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The United States refused to sign the statement, saying its broad language could reach into areas that fall outside of federal jurisdiction, such as the right of each U.S. state to define marriage.
“It is altogether shameful that on this 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bush administration should take one final swipe at the universal application of human rights for all,” said Julie Dorf of the Council for Global Equality. “The shoe incident in Iraq last week painfully shows us how low this country has sunk in the world’s view.”