Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva passed a resolution demanding equality regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as investigation into global violence and discrimination against gay people. This is one of those things where it’s great that it’s happening, but also: it seems like it should have happened already.
The resolution — presented by South Africa and passed with 23 countries in favour, 19 against, and three abstentions — really only wants a couple of things. They are:
+ For the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a study on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by December 2011.
+ To have a transparent Human Rights Council panel discussion on the results of the study.
+ For any necessary follow-up to happen.
+ For people “to remain seized with this priority issue.”
In an interview with CNN, Suzanne Nossel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, said:
“[This resolution] really is a key part in setting a new norm that gay rights are human rights and that that has to be accepted globally. It talks about the violence and discrimination that people of LGBT persuasion experience around the world, and that those issues … need to be taken seriously. It calls for reporting on what’s going on, where people are being discriminated against, the violence that is taking place, and it really puts the issue squarely on the U.N.’s agenda going forward.”
The resolution is being talked about as something historic, and it is. The Human Rights Council hasn’t actually voted to condemn discrimination based on sexual orientation before. But it’s important to remember that this resolution is also not actually creating any new rights. Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads:
“All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”
The rights themselves already technically exist — this resolution just wants to make sure that international standards are applied to them. Led by Nigeria and Pakistan, the dissenting nations have said the resolution has “nothing to do with fundamental human rights.” And it’s good that people are disagreeing with this, because, obviously, it has everything to do with fundamental human rights. And the fact that the resolution — which, it’s important to remember, isn’t even legally binding — passed by only four votes is nothing short of depressing.
Last November, the UN General Assembly voted to remove references to sexual orientation from a resolution that protects against arbitrary executions.
In March, 85 nations signed a statement by the UN Human Rights Council in support of gay rights. Those agreeing with the (non-binding) statement “call on States to take steps to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, encourage Special Procedures, treaty bodies and other stakeholders to continue to integrate these issues within their relevant mandates, and urge the Council to address these important human rights issues.”
At the time, South Africa was not in favour of signing the statement (though they eventually did), but wanted to create an “open-ended intergovernmental working group to elaborate on new concepts such as sexual orientation” and limit all discussions of sexual orientation to the Human Rights Council. In the last minutes of the meeting, South Africa announced that they planned to defer consideration of the resolution until June “to provide more time for consultation on the text.” The current resolution also calls for a study, but this time, with less offensive wording.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer had this to say:
“If you look at the history of human rights and the ever-expanding circle of who counts as human, every time that circle has expanded there have been those that have dissented and in every case they have been proven wrong over time.”
That statement is a little weird, because last time I checked, gay people were humans too. Nevertheless, it is great and fantastic and wonderful that the resolution passed (even if it was by a narrow margin) and great and fantastic and wonderful that people are going to be examining international discrimination due to gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s less great and fantastic and wonderful that this is the first time it’s occurred to someone (by “someone” I mean “the United Nations”) that resolutions protecting people from that type of discrimination are maybe a good idea and might work towards preventing the type of situation recently seen in Uganda but all too frequently seen in the rest of the world. But it’s something.