Background

Background and key achievements

ARC International incorporated in 2003 as a project-driven organization based in Canada. Prior to our incorporation, we conducted a needs assessment to identify gaps in the landscape of international LGBT organizing.

One of our first major initiatives was to co-sponsor an international strategic consultation in Rio de Janeiro bringing together key stakeholders from all regions of the world in support of a Brazilian resolution on sexual orientation and human rights at the United Nations. This initiative went beyond just strategizing about a particular advocacy opportunity. It also marked the beginning of an enhanced level of international cooperation and movement-building. One of the outcomes of that consultation was the launch of ARC’s sexual orientation and gender identity listserv which has been become a vital tool for strategic engagement and networking internationally, linking hundreds of activists from all geographic regions.

The next couple of years saw an increase in visibility and credibility. ARC prepared a major brief on sexual orientation issues internationally, and participated in the 6-week Commission on Human Rights, engaging with governments and working to support NGO coalition activities. We organized a second consultation (International Dialogue) in Geneva, which was able to enhance the capacity of many NGOs in terms of engagement with UN mechanisms. We were also responsible for establishing an ongoing connection between the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and international LGBT organizations.

In 2005, we relocated one of our Co-Directors to Geneva, coinciding with the decision of the UN to establish a new Human Rights Council as a year-round standing body. Although other organizations have considered similar action, and despite our support for such initiatives, we remain the only organization with a full-time presence in Geneva dedicated to LGBT issues. This presence has substantially enhanced our ability to engage on an ongoing basis with the UN human rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council, the Special Procedures, the treaty bodies and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We were instrumental in conceiving, drafting and implementing a joint statement on sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights, which was delivered in 2006 by Norway on behalf of 54 States from 4 of the 5 UN regions. This represents the largest-ever UN statement on these issues and the first to include gender identity, and has laid the foundation for a further joint statement with an even greater base of support, to be delivered by France at the General Assembly in December, 2008 as part of the 60th Anniversary celebrations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

ARC has also campaigned in support of providing ECOSOC accreditation to LGBT NGOs, thus increasing the presence and visibility of LGBT issues in the work of the UN. We have run training programs on LGBT rights, hosted cross-regional International Dialogues on an annual basis, and used the new Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the Human Rights Council to liaise with national-level NGOs, raise LGBT issues and secure commitments from States in every region of the world.

ARC has also played a key role in the various phases of the Yogyakarta Principles. We initiated the project, convened a coalition of NGOs to implement it, facilitated meetings of the coalition, worked closely on the preparations for and conduct of the experts’ meeting, worked with partners to successfully launch the Principles, prepared backgrounders and advocacy materials to support regional launch initiatives, developed a website, track the ongoing use of the Principles, are participating in the development of an activists’ guide, and conduct ongoing training and support for organizations using the Principles.

Although we have maintained the same vision/philosophy, and roughly the same goals since our inception, our initial activities tended to be project-driven and modest in scale. Five years later, it is clear that our unique vision and philosophy, along with our successes, have allowed us to grow as an organization beyond our initial expectations. We currently play a central role in international coordination, planning, enhancing capacity and advocacy. Our projects are increasingly long-term in nature and produce specific and concrete results while advancing a broader strategic vision. We have contributed to a measurable increase in awareness and recognition of our issues by UN bodies, developed a global coalition linking activists from every region of the world, and have provided support to groups and individuals seeking to address local challenges.

2009-2010 was a pivotal period, as we moved into the implementation phase of the UN human rights reform process, and work with NGOs to address the implications of these reforms for LGBT equality rights, build global support for the Yogyakarta Principles, and develop a coordinated strategic vision for advancing these issues through the years ahead.