March 22, 2011

Joint declaration against human rights violations due to sexual orientation

In an important development for the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a Joint Statement was delivered during the General Debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva that called on States to end violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and urged the Human Rights Council to address these important human rights issues. The statement was delivered on behalf of a broad grouping of 85 States from all regions of the world.

The statement enjoyed the support of the largest group of countries to-date, on the topic of sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights. It builds on a similar statement delivered by Norway at the Human Rights Council in 2006 (on behalf of 54 States), and a joint statement delivered by Argentina at the General Assembly in 2008 (on behalf of 66 States).

During the same general debate, an intervention delivered by Nigeria on behalf of the African Group, still reaffirmed the critical point that “laws that criminalize sexual orientation should be expunged”. South Africa, a signatory to the State joint statement, emphasized in a separate intervention, that sexual orientation was not a new issue, and called for an inter-governmental process to ensure open dialogue on the issue.
The Joint Statement supports what UN human rights bodies have repeatedly expressed: that no one should face rights violations because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Since the UN Human Rights Committee’s landmark decision in 1994, affirming that sexual orientation is a protected ground against discrimination, United Nations experts have repeatedly acted against abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) including killings, torture, rape, violence, disappearances, and discrimination in many areas of life. UN treaty bodies have called on states to end discrimination in law and policy. The Human Rights Committee monitors State Parties’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The declaration has been signed more than three months after David Kato, a former teacher and a leading Ugandan gay rights activist, was beaten to death in his home in Mukono Town in Uganda. Kato was living in Johannesburg since the beginning of South Africa’s new democracy and, inspired by the progress made there in recognising the legal right of gay people, he became a key figure in the Ugandan movement when he returned there in 1998. No one has been brought to justice for the murder. Uganda is one of 83 countries where homosexuality is criminalized. If a proposed bill were to be passed by parliament, it would become the eighth country where under certain circumstances homosexuality is punishable by death.

African signatories to the Human Rights Council joint statement are: Central African Republic, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone and South Africa. (Sadocc)

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