The United Nations Human Rights Council has for the first time passed a proposal condemning discrimination against LGBT people. The vote in Geneva passed 23–19, with opposition coming from African and Islamic Arab nations.
South Africa proposed the resolution, which calls for a report on global discrimination based upon sexual orientation and announces “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 before us today does not seek to impose values on other states,” said South African delegate Jerry Matthews Matjila, presenting his nation’s proposal on the final day of the council’s latest eighteen-day session. “It seeks to initiate a dialogue which will contribute to us ending discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The European Union, United States, and Latin American nations including Brazil agreed. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Russia were among the opposition; five members did not take either side — China, Burkina Faso, and Zambia entered abstentions, Kyrgyzstan failed to vote and Libya is suspended.
Nigerian delegate Ositadinma Anaedu said, “We are dealing with a matter that falls outside of human rights,” and Pakistani Shafqat Ali Khan said on the Organisation of the Islamic Conference’s behalf “We are seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce to the United Nations some notions that have no legal foundation in any international human rights instrument.”
Amnesty International rejected this notion. “The principle of non-discrimination and equal protection of the law applies even to people who are excluded sometimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity,” Whitney Brown said for the organisation. “You can see [the resolution] as an authoritative interpretation of binding treaty law, which does prohibit discrimination.” Amnesty claims 76 nations prohibit same-sex relationships.
South Africa was accused by other African nations of failing to support its neighbours in favour of Western nations. A Mauritanian diplomat alleged the resolution seeks “to replace the natural rights of a human being with an unnatural right.” South Africa is the first nation to specifically address sexual discrimination in its constitution, which was written in the 1990s.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the move. “The Human Rights Council has taken a first bold step into territory previously considered off-limits,” said Graeme Reid, head of LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch. “Today’s resolution breaks the silence that has been maintained for far too long,” said gay rights campaigners ARC International’s John Fisher. Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, also welcomed the resolution: “This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love.”
The review of anti-LGBT discrimination is anticipated to be over by the year’s end.