17th session of the Human Rights Council
Once again we were pleased to work with a great coalition of NGO colleagues from around the world to ensure the Human Rights Council addresses human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This session’s reports presented by Special Rapporteurs documented a disturbing number of brutal abuses against LGBTI individuals in all regions of the world. In spite of these documented allegations, certain States insist that the Human Rights Council does not have the responsibility to protect on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. In a major victory at this session, however, a clear majority of the HRC member States voted to put the issue squarely on the Council’s agenda!
Resolution on “Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity”
It was an epic journey from South Africa’s draft resolution L.27 on “The imperative need to respect the established procedures and practices of the United Nations General Assembly in the elaboration of new norms and standards and their subsequent integration into existing international human rights law” to resolution 17/19 on “Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity”. The drastic change in the resolution’s title reflects the change in its language and focus. The original draft was worded so as to create an open ended inter-governmental working group to define and potentially limit how ‘new concepts’ such as sexual orientation fit into international human rights law. The draft, if it had passed, would have blocked consideration of the issues by any other UN forum or mechanism, effectively creating a censor.
Between March (when the original text was tabled and then deferred) and June, ARC International worked closely with activists in South Africa, Geneva and elsewhere to encourage the South African delegation to consider more positive language in the resolution, which focused on addressing violence, discrimination and related human rights violations on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Negotiations on the text went surprisingly smoothly, partly due to the absence of more hostile players, but particularly because of South Africa’s open and inclusive chairing style. NGOs were consistently given the opportunity to make interventions, and to provide suggestions on the text, and South Africa carefully considered all suggestions, by States and NGOs alike, to create a stronger resolution that could garner the maximum support.
The result was an excellent text, which expressed “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”. It requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a study by the end of the year on discrimination and violence on these grounds, and decided to hold a panel discussion at the Human Rights Council in March 2012 to discuss the findings of the study.
The resolution was considered for adoption on the last day of the Council session (June 17).
Whilst diplomats hovered in tense groups around the back of the room, and NGO colleagues practiced deep breathing and shared packs of tissues (just in case), Ambassador Matjila of South Africa delivered a compelling and heartfelt statement to introduce the resolution, drawing a link to liberation struggles past and present. After various other statements, including supportive ones from Brazil and Mexico, and less pleasant ones from various other countries, the resolution was finally put to a vote and with much applause, cheers, hugs and tears, passed by 23 votes to 19 (with 3 abstentions)!
Resolution on violence against women
Whilst we celebrated the adoption of the SOGI resolution, we also mourned the loss of a reference to women vulnerable to “sexuality related violence” in the latest resolution on violence against women. Canada, the main sponsor of the resolution, kept the reference in until the last moment, but eventually removed it after strong opposition from some countries threatened the traditional consensus on the text. Although the reference was lost this time round, Canada did pledge to work to reinsert the reference next time the resolution arises for consideration.
Nauru and Sao Tomé and Principle both formally accepted recommendations to decriminalise same-sex relations between consenting adults! Recommendations on SOGI issues were also accepted by Nepal, Austria, Australia, Estonia, Paraguay and Saint Lucia. Meanwhile, Oman, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Namibia, and Mozambique rejected all recommendations relating to SOGI.
NGO statements were delivered by ARC International (on Nauru), Blue Diamond Society (on Nepal), United & Strong Inc. (on Saint Lucia), Caribbean Forum for the Liberation of Genders and Sexualities (on Saint Kitts and Nevis), Global Action for Trans* Equality (on Austria), Australian Coalition for Equality (on Australia), and COC Netherlands (on Estonia).
Side event – 7 June 2011
ARC was pleased to co-sponsor a side event organised by ILGA titled “The Growing Consensus: Towards the End of Criminalization and Human Rights Violations based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”, where NGO colleagues Phelisa Nkomo (Black Sash), Kenita Placide (United & Strong Inc.), Justus Eisfield (GATE), and Naome Ruzindana, (Horizon Community Association) all gave excellent presentations. The panel discussed the growing number of States willing to support SOGI initiatives at the UN, as well as the potential for the (then draft) resolution.
1. Advancing SOGI issues at HRC17 (PDF) – pre-sessional report for States
2. HRC resolution 17/19 – “Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity“
3. Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila of South Africa
4. Joint NGO Press Release on the HRC resolution