Geneva, 9 – 27 September 2013
List of themes and countries to be discussed at 24th session (per reports submitted)
The 24th session of the Human Rights Council ran from 9-27 September 2013. Although there were no specific initiatives at the formal session on sexual orientation and gender identity, many relevant issues were on the table including dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the annual discussion on gender integration, general debates providing chances to raise human rights situations of concern, and to comment on the new “traditional values” report. See Annex II of our session report for relevant excerpts in the Special Procedures and other reports to the session.
Working group reports from the 16th session of the Universal Periodic Review were formally adopted by the Council at the end of the second week, which provided NGOs opportunity to comment the process. Many States and NGOs took the floor to express concern about recent developments in Cameroon and Russia. Annex I of our session report provides more in depth details to the UPR adoptions, including recommendations accepted and rejected, and NGO statements.
Furthermore, the Council adopted 39 resolutions during the session, including on the rights to peaceful assembly and association, the right to health, combating FGM, arbitrary detention, reprisals against human rights defenders, maintaining civil society space, promoting human rights through sport, and child, early and forced marriage.
Finally, several relevant side events were run by States and NGOs including on sexual orientation and gender identity, human rights defenders, traditional values, reprisals, human rights in the Russian Federation, and decriminalising abortion.
Update from the High Commissioner followed by General Debate
The High Commissioner for Human Rights has played an active role in calling for an end to violence, and discriminatory laws and practices based on sexual orientation and gender identity over recent years. As part of an anti-discrimination campaign, the OHCHR has committed to working with States, national human rights institutions and civil society to achieve progress towards protecting people from violence and discrimination on grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Recently, the OHCHR launched a new global public education campaign for LGBT equality (www.unfe.org). More information on the High Commissioner’s work on SOGI issues can be found here.
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted the alarming pattern of brutality and widespread intolerance against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in all regions. In July, in Cape Town, together with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South African Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron, she helped launch Free & Equal, an unprecedented global public education campaign, to promote greater respect for the rights of LGBT people everywhere.
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation had consistently raised its reservations about “controversial” notions that had not been universally agreed, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and therefore could not support any initiative by the High Commissioner in this respect.
Iran said it had strong reservations about any education campaign on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people supported by the High Commissioner on the basis that it would contradict established human rights principles.
Lithuania, speaking on behalf of the European Union, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Iceland and Albania, commended the evolving work of the Office on a wide range of thematic issues and welcomed the successful launch of the “Free and Equal” campaign for LGBTI equality and non-discrimination.
Saudi Arabia said that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were against Islamic Shariah, which was applied in the country.
ARC International and Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network expressed concern about human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender orientation, a matter of ongoing and urgent concern. The High Commissioner was encouraged to continue to integrate these issues throughout the work of the Office, including at the field level, and to highlight in her updates to the Council specific violations taking place at the country level, so that governments might better fulfil their responsibility to address these violations. The time had also come for the Council to more consistently address human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Annual discussion on gender integration
The Council held the annual discussion on integration of a gender perspective on 12 September 2013. The panel’s focus was on “Civil society’s contribution to the integration of a gender perspective in the work of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms”.
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that too often, women human rights defenders were targeted, often even physically attacked, when perceived as challenging socio-cultural norms and traditions related to their status as women. Some civil society organizations were also male-dominated, reflecting the same gender inequalities in their representation and decision-making that they found in many other structures of society. They also saw far too much occupational segregation in human rights jobs in civil society organizations, with many more women working in traditional fields. They should widen still further the diversity and participation of newly accredited civil society organizations in gender work, bearing in mind that there were still too few that were specialized in political participation or gender integration. Also encouraged was the promotion of gender equality within the civil society movement itself, with increased participation and leadership of women in non-governmental organization management and leadership, and further involvement of women-oriented non-governmental organizations in the field of civil and political rights.
NEHA SOOD, Advocacy and Policy Officer for Action Canada for Population and Development, said that it was regrettable that not all Governments consulted civil society during the preparation of their Universal Periodic Review report. Challenges facing the Universal Periodic Review process included general or timid recommendations and lack of attention to issues such as comprehensive sexuality education, women’s sexuality, women’s reproductive rights, and forced sterilization.
General Debate on Human Rights Situations that Require the Attention of the Council
Item 4 of the HRC agenda typically focuses attention on country situations of concern. This session saw several States expressing concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in the Russian Federation, including with reference to the rights of LGBTI persons.
Lithuania, on behalf of the European Union, encouraged the Russian Federation to ensure an enabling environment for the work of civil society organizations and human rights defenders and to take concrete steps to guarantee the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. It had serious concerns about the effect of the federal law against propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors, reinforcing discrimination against LGBTI people. The EU called on the Russian Federation to uphold its commitments to protect the enjoyment of these rights by all, and to actively strive towards a more conducive attitude concerning the inclusion and tolerance of minorities in the Russian society.
Switzerland was very concerned about violence committed against women throughout the world, particularly in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It was also alarmed by the legal stigmatisation of sexual minorities in Russia and Cameroon.
International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association said that one human rights situation that required the Council’s attention was the human rights situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Each one was a human being born free and equal in dignity and human rights. The Council had to therefore remain committed to protecting and promoting their human rights.
Russia, speaking in a right of reply, said the European Union was misinformed regarding their statements on Russian laws, and said it supposed that the States received their information from bloggers. There was no legal discrimination against sexual minorities in Russia: rather the law in question was a legitimate child protection measure. Before putting forward “fabricated allegations” about what was happening in Russia, the Czech Republic and Switzerland should look at the human rights situation in their own countries. Russia expressed concern, for example, about discrimination against Roma in the Czech Republic, overcrowding in Swiss prisons, and the effective prohibition on asylum seekers from appearing in some public places in Switzerland.
Consideration of UPR reports
This session, the Human Rights Council adopted the UPR reports of Turkmenistan, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Tuvalu, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Germany, Djibouti, Canada, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Russian Federation, Cameroon and Cuba. The UPR report adoption process affords an opportunity to commend those States that responded favourably to relevant recommendations, and to encourage States which have not to address these issues more positively in future. A summary is below, with more details provided in Annex I of the session report.
Bangladesh rejected recommendations to repeal article 377 of the Criminal Code. Statements expressing concern about the rights of LGBT persons in Bangladesh were made by ILGA and Boys of Bangladesh, and ACPD and the SRI.
Cameroon accepted a recommendation to investigate police violence that took place on persons because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. However it rejected several recommendations including to decriminalise consensual same sex relations between adults; to protect LGBTI people from violence; to take measures to eliminate discrimination based on SOGI, including through public awareness actions; to respect the right to privacy, and; to protect LGBT human rights defenders. During the report adoption five NGOs made statements on SOGI-related issues, and expressed concern at the murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe. The delegation stated that homosexuality was a sensitive issue in Cameroon and denied that Eric Ohena Lembembe was killed because of his sexual orientation.
ILGA and Egale Canada made a statement during the adoption of the UPR report on Canada, drawing attention to the shortcomings of Canada’s asylum policy.
Colombia accepted a recommendation to consider the possibility of enhancing the necessary measures for the protection and integration of the LGBT population, and took note of a recommendation to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption. ACPD and the SRI made a statement drawing attention to legal restrictions on abortion and cases of sexual violence and murder against women, especially lesbians and trans women.
Cuba accepted recommendations to promote LGBT rights and to share experiences with other countries, and to strengthen publicity and awareness campaigns on the rights of LGBT people. It took note of a recommendation to expand opportunities for dialogue on SOGI.
Germany accepted recommendations to combat hate crimes based on SOGI including through implementing anti-discrimination laws and strengthening financial resources of investigation authorities and the autonomy of the Federal Agency against discrimination. In its response Germany noted that this included online hate crimes.
Russia rejected recommendations to repeal legislation that can be used to discriminate against LGBT persons, or to restrict the rights of LGBT persons. Russia noted in its response that “the law does not discriminate against LGBT persons”, but that the rights in question may be subject to restrictions “including for the protection of health and morals”.
Russia partially accepted recommendations to step up measures of protection against violence and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation by enacting laws that prohibit such discrimination, and take measures to ensure the effective exercise of the rights to peaceful association and assembly of the LGBT community. Russia noted in its response that “discrimination against LGBT persons is already prohibited under the law” and accordingly no further legislation is required.
Russia accepted recommendations to take specific measures to ensure effective investigation of acts of violence against LGBT persons and hold the perpetrators to account; adopt the necessary measures to eradicate the diffusion, through the media, and by public officials, of stereotypes that may promote discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation; and to adopt legislation assuring that LGBT people can freely exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Russia noted in its response that “the law does not discriminate against LGBT persons”, that “all acts of violence, regardless of whether perpetrated on members of the LGBT community … are duly acted upon by the law enforcement agencies”, that “an offence committed on the grounds of hatred or enmity towards any social group is regarded as an aggravating circumstance” under the Criminal Code, and that the “dissemination of information that encourages any form of discrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation, is already prohibited”, although “freedom of the press is guaranteed and censorship is prohibited”.
Human Rights Watch, ACPD, ASTRA and the SRI, ILGA and the Russian LGBT Network, FIDH, Amnesty International, the ICJ, and Freedom House made statements on human rights in Russia around SOGI and related issues.
Turkmenistan rejected a recommendation to implement the Human Rights Committee recommendation to decriminalize sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex
Tuvalu rejected a recommendation to repeal all provisions that criminalise consensual same-sex conduct and ensure that anti-discrimination laws cover sexual orientation.
Uzbekistan rejected recommendations to combat discrimination against LGBT persons, and to decriminalise consensual homosexual activity in compliance with obligations under the ICCPR. During the report adoption ILGA urged the government to take measures to address violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.
General debate on follow-up to and implementation of the VDPA
A number of States and NGOs highlighted that 2013 is the 20th Anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which reaffirms the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of rights, and underscores that it is the duty of all States, regardless of their historical, cultural and religious backgrounds to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms. In addition, the High Commissioner for Human Rights had been tasked to prepare a report on “traditional values and best practices”, which was presented under agenda item 8. The report (A/HRC/24/22) summarizes some traditional values that are in accordance with universal human rights, but also notes the view of some respondents that “traditional values could be invoked to justify the status quo and undermine the rights of the most marginalized and disadvantaged groups”.
Netherlands said that the Vienna Declaration provided the obligation for all States to promote and protect all human rights, regardless of their political or economic systems, their national particularities, and their historical and cultural backgrounds. Therefore, traditional values had to be tested against universal human rights before they could be embraced. No human being should be denied his or her rights solely because of his or her sexual orientation. Human rights defenders needed support in their relentless efforts to promote human rights.
International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association said the Council had heard many times about the increased human rights violations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The increase in people being brave enough to “come out” meant that their human rights needs were ever more prominent. States and human rights mechanisms must work together with civil society to ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. ILGA also expressed its commitment to engaging around the processes being advanced by South Africa, including the African Regional Workshop, High-Level Seminar in Geneva, and then bringing the matter back to the Council in a timely manner.
ARC International and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network said it was disturbing to hear, even at the opening of this session, some States critiquing the High Commissioner’s attention to the rights of LGBT persons on the basis that these were “controversial issues which had no legal basis in international human rights law instruments”. The fact that the core principles of universality and non-discrimination remained contested, even after the 2011 resolution, the High Commissioner’s report, and the subsequent plenary panel, highlighted the need for more discussion by the Council, not less. ARC and the Network indicated that they looked forward to working with the lead sponsor and with States from all regions to ensure that the Council fulfills its responsibility to properly integrate these issues within its work. ARC and the Network further stated that the concerns highlighted in the traditional values report were consistent with those raised during the OHCHR expert meeting and by the Advisory Committee in its recent report. Developments in Russia made clear that a “traditional values” approach undermines the human rights of marginalised groups. They called on the Council to return its focus to promoting and protecting universal human rights for all.
Action Canada for Population and Development said traditional values, which had no agreed definition, had been and continued to be used to justify violations of human rights by States and other actors on the basis of sex, gender, sexuality, ability and disability, among others. The Council was urged to acknowledge the risks that the rhetoric of traditional values posed to the universality of human rights.
The Human Rights Council adopted 39 resolutions during the session, including on the rights to peaceful assembly and association, the right to health, combating FGM, arbitrary detention, reprisals against human rights defenders, maintaining civil society space, promoting human rights through sport, and child, early and forced marriage.
The Russian Federation, Cuba and Pakistan submitted numerous written amendments to the resolutions on reprisals, civil society space, and freedom of association and assembly in an attempt to weaken the texts. Thankfully all amendments were either voted down or withdrawn before they were voted on. India called for a vote to delete a key operative paragraph of the reprisals resolution, which was also voted down. The paragraph requests the Secretary-General to designate a UN-wide senior focal point on reprisals. The resolution was eventually adopted by a vote. The only State to vote against the reprisals resolution was Gabon, which is widely expected to hold the Presidency of the Human Rights Council in 2014, although the delegation of Gabon subsequently sought to explain that it had voted against the resolution in error.
Although Russia rejected proposals to include reference to non-discrimination on the basis of grounds including sexual orientation and gender identity in the resolution on “sport and the Olympic ideal”, the resolution included a reference to “sport as a universal language that contributes to educating people on the values of respect, diversity, tolerance and fairness and as a means to combat all forms of discrimination and promote social inclusion for all.” Speaking in explanation of vote, the USA noted that the phrase “for all” must be understood to encompass “members of the many groups that benefit from sport, including those of differing sexual orientations and gender identities”.
The resolutions on combating FGM and strengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage were adopted without a vote. Other resolutions related to non-discrimination resulted in the creation of a new Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, and a request to the HRC Advisory Committee to prepare a study on the situation of persons living with albinism.
Side event by Brazil – positive developments and good practices
Brazil hosted a high-level side event on “Combating violence against LGBT individuals: human rights and good practices”, which was cosponsored by Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, Netherlands, Norway, United States and Uruguay. The event provided an opportunity to identify challenges faced on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and measures that can be taken to address these challenges. Excerpts from the documentary, The Time Has Come, were shown before the chair took brief comments from the floor from the Netherlands, Montenegro, the EU and ILGA.
Side event by ILGA and FIDH – challenges of human rights defenders
This panel event provided opportunity to hear some of the challenges facing SOGI human rights defenders, featuring defenders from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Kenya, Mexico, and Venezuela, and the first full screening at the UN of ARC International’s video documentary, “The Time Has Come” (http://vimeo.com/arcinternational/videos). The event was also live-streamed.
Another side event, organized by Article 19, Human Rights House Foundation, and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies focused on “traditional values”, including the harmful impact of this approach on LGBT human rights defenders in Eastern Europe. Panellists from Kenya, Ukraine, Russia, Egypt, Brazil and the UK spoke about the particular challenges in their countries, as well as the legal issues around a traditional values approach to human rights.
As always, there were numerous other side events of interest, including a panel discussion hosted by ISHR on Human Rights and Reprisals, an event sponsored by Freedom House on Human Rights in the Russian Federation: State “Sovereignty” trumps Universal Human Rights and a discussion jointly sponsored by States and the Sexual Rights Initiative on Decriminalisation of Abortion: A human rights imperative.
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