By Anna Peirano
On Wednesday, the UN Human Rights Council convened to debate gay rights and sexual orientation based discrimination and violence. Delegates from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), representing 57 nations, and others from Arab and African states walked out on the discussions.
The session involving the 47 member Geneva based council was held to discuss the first UN report submitted last year by the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, concerning LGBT treatment throughout the world. The report identified “a clear pattern of targeted violence and discrimination directed at people because they are, or are perceived to be LGBT.”
Last June, the United States and South Africa pushed for a vote by the council to approve a resolution expressing “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.” The resolution was approved by the council, but was opposed by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, among others.
Via a video message to the panel, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon reaffirmed his stance on the issue. “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,” he said. “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, too.”
76 of the UN’s 192 member countries have laws criminalizing homosexual behavior, and severe punishment is often carried out for such acts. At least 5 of those countries impose the death penalty.
Ki-Moon called such punishment “a monumental tragedy for those affected and a stain on our collective conscience” and said, “It is also a violation of international law. You, as members of the Human Rights Council, must respond.”
In Pillay’s report, she acknowledges that for some states, homosexuality conflicts with cultural values and public opinion. However, she maintains that, “The balance between tradition and culture, on the one hand, and universal human rights on the other, must be struck in favor of rights.”
The representative of the Pakistani mission in Geneva and one of those opposed to the discussion, Saeed Sarwar, said before walking out that, “Licentious behavior promoted under the so-called concept of sexual orientation is against the fundamental teachings of various religions, including Islam. From this perspective, legitimizing homosexuality and other personal sexual behaviors in the name of sexual orientation is unacceptable.” He urged the UN to discard this and future discussions concerning LGBT rights.
However, Pillay called the meeting an historic moment for both the Council and the United Nations. She said, “We all have the opportunity to begin together a new chapter dedicated to ending violence and discrimination against all people, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said.