United Nations Human Rights Chief Publishes Ground-breaking Report on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Report calls on governments to combat discrimination and violence against LGBTI people
December 15, 2011
Human rights organisations around the world welcomed the release of the first ever United Nations report on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity. The report documents widespread discrimination and violence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people worldwide, and calls on States to apply the international legal framework to end these human rights violations.
“Recent initiatives undertaken by Regional and International Human Rights bodies, such as those mandated by the South African resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity or its precedent at the OAS are a clear manifestation of the commitment of these organizations and their member states to generate future policies that would provide solutions to these serious human rights concerns,” said Marcelo Ferreyra of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
The mandate for the report came from the UN Human Rights Council, after South Africa took leadership on the issue by coordinating a resolution at the world human rights body in June. The call was supported by a majority of the Council, including countries from all UN regions.
“This resolution marked a significant victory for LGBT activists”, said Kim Vance of ARC International. “Though publishing this report the United Nations has unequivocally affirmed that the protections guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights apply to each and every one of us. We trust that this will pave the way for more explicit action to address the egregious abuses LGBT people face.”
The resolution itself built upon decades of unshakable advocacy by LGBT human rights defenders. It could not have materialized without the legacy of people claiming the right to be free from violence, discrimination and persecution, and the right to have voice and to organize without threats to security.
Linda Baumann, Co-Chair of Pan-Africa ILGA, said, “Pan Africa ILGA (PAI) welcomes this historic report in our continent Africa. The report sets a basis of discussion within our region and with our member states towards creating an enabling environment for the LGBT community. We are optimistic that this report will create a space for all human rights organisations to seriously reflect on issues of discrimination and violence faced by LGBT people as a matter of urgency. As much as this is a step ahead for our movement, this is just another beginning of political liberation struggle for the LGBT community by keeping our governments accountable to their commitment in the protection of human rights and affirming their obligations as UN member states”.
Whilst the publication of the report and the increased support for LGBT rights at the UN marks significant progress on these issues, human rights defenders also underlined the need for urgent action to stop the rapes, killings and everyday exclusion and ostracism occurring the world over, and highlighted in the report.
“The brutalities and indignities suffered by LGBT persons have finally been recognized as violations of the core principle of the UN Charter namely the universality of human rights”, said Arvind Narrain of the Alternative Law Forum in India. “The UN report reaffirms the decision of the Delhi High Court that criminal laws against consensual same-sex conduct are incompatible with international human rights norms.”
Joel Nana, Executive Director of African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, added: “this is an important step towards the effective protection of LGBTI people from human rights violations. AMSHeR commends this endeavour and urges African parties to the treaties to put in place mechanisms to prevents further violations”.
The report calls on all governments to implement their commitments and obligations under international law, by protecting the rights of all persons, regardless of their sexuality, gender identity or expression. As UN human rights chief Navi Pillay highlights in the report, this includes protection and recognition of the self-identified gender of trans persons. It also includes protection from violence, killings, torture and abuse, including at the hands of family and community-members. The report calls for decriminalization of same-sex relations between consenting adults, and granting asylum to LGBTI individuals at risk, while also emphasizing the importance of freedom of expression and assembly, and non-discrimination in accessing employment, health care and education.
“The report calls on governments worldwide to actively pursue leadership”, Dr. Julia Ehrt, Executive Director of Transgender Europe stated. “In Europe, nearly every person who is visibly trans is affected by harassment and violence in private or public. Those wishing to obtain legal gender recognition are forced to undergo unwanted medical treatment including a mental disorder diagnosis. It is high time for state leaders to get into action with comprehensive gender recognition and anti-discrimination policies such that these severe human rights violations of transgender people end.”
“As a human rights challenge, countering discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should be non-controversial”, the High Commissioner has stated. “We are not trying to create new rights or extend human rights into new, uncharted territory. What we are doing is insisting that all people are entitled to the same rights and to the equal protection of international human rights law.”
Pillay is expected to present the report to the Human Rights Council at its next scheduled meeting in March 2012.
The report (document number A/HRC/19/41) is available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/19session/A.HRC.19.41_English.pdf
 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. Remarks during an interactive dialogue with the UN Third Committee in New York, 19 October 2011.