Geneva, 3 – 28 March 2014
|Download our advocacy report for the session: Addressing SOGI at HRC25 (PDF)
Download our report of week one of the session: HRC25_week_one_report (PDF)
Download our report of the full session: HRC25 Report_ARC2014
Intersex People and Human Rights, 11th March – see flyer
The 25th session of the Human Rights Council took place from 3 to 28 March 2014. It was a busy four week session with a high level of attention to SOGI issues. The session started with the High Level Segment, followed by interactive dialogues with the High Commissioner and Special Procedures (including on torture, human rights defenders, freedom of religion, and cultural rights), and adoption of reports from the 17th UPR session (countries included Saudi Arabia, Senegal, China, Nigeria, Mexico, Mauritius, Jordan, Malaysia, Central African Republic, Monaco, Belize, Chad, Israel, Congo, and Malta). The session saw negotiation of a broad range of resolutions, renewal of Special Procedures mandates, and specific focus and awareness raising on SOGI issues through general debates, panels and side events.
Overview of the session
Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) related issues received a high level of attention from States and NGOs throughout the Council session, with country specific attention being brought to the situations in Uganda, Russia and Nigeria.
High level and general segment statements
During the High Level and General Segments, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and High Commissioner Navi Pillay both expressed support for LGBT rights as did the SG of the Commonwealth and a number of States including Argentina, Greece, Ireland, Slovenia, Canada, Sweden, Czech Republic, Denmark, the United States, Belgium, Brazil, Mexico, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Iceland. The US expressed concern about the recent laws in Russia, Uganda, and Nigeria. Sweden mentioned Russia and Uganda, and Belgium also mentioned Uganda. Uganda then took a right of reply to “outline the purpose of the Anti-Homosexuality Act”.
South Africa committed to hosting the African regional seminar “focusing on the plight of the LGBTI” during the first half of 2014 in the written version of their statement, however, this was not included in the statement as delivered. Nevertheless they have indicated to NGOs present that the written version is their official statement.
Russia and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) stated that traditional, religious and cultural values should be protected, and Namibia made a statement strengthening the role of the family. Sierra Leone gave a more nuanced intervention accepting that some cultural practices can be harmful, and stressed the importance of awareness raising and education. Belgium strongly rejected using the pretext of cultural relativism to cover up human rights abuses.
Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner
During the presentation of her annual report the High Commissioner addressed discrimination based on sexual orientation, and shared information about the Free & Equal campaign. The EU, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, the UK and France commended her work on SOGI, whilst the OIC, Arab Group, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran criticised her attention to the issues. Nigeria requested States not to intervene on LGBT issues, and stated that “the legislation was reached through popular democratic process”. Botswana referred to SO & GI as “emerging issues that remain a challenge”, and stated: “we continue public consultations on these contentious areas. We, however, do not condone acts of violence against anybody”.
The High Commissioner responded powerfully to States that had criticised her work on these issues, dedicating much of her response time to SOGI, including stating that: “Hardly a day goes by without my office receiving reports of appalling violent attacks and discrimination perpetrated against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. As High Commissioner, I cannot turn a blind eye to evidence of these kinds of serious violations of human rights. It is my duty to speak out, and it is your duty as States to respond.”
The International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs, ARC International and ILGA Europe, the Center for Inquiry, International Service for Human Rights, and Sudwind and IGLHRC all made statements expressing concern about human rights violations based on SOGI.
Item 3 – Promotion and protection of all human rights
SOGI issues received a significant amount of attention throughout the interactive dialogues with Special Procedures, with mandate holders, NGO speakers and States expressing concern about continued violations against LGBTI persons, including with particular reference to the worsening situations in Uganda, Russia and Nigeria. Contrary to the title of this agenda item, there were States that questioned and sought to restrict attention to SOGI-related issues, stating that mandate holders should only discuss “universally agreed upon” human rights.
This was compounded during the general debate under Item 3, when Namibia delivered a statement titled “Protection of the family” on behalf of 99 States. Similar statements were also made by Russia and the OIC Human Rights Commission which was concerned about “the push by certain quarters to promote controversial concepts within the ambit of rights” and stressed the promotion of the status of the family as a fundamental society unit. COC Netherlands delivered a powerful response to these statements, highlighting the dangers of idealising the family structure in a human rights context, and concluding: “Protecting the family must be a means to protecting the human rights of each family member as an individual born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Item 4 – Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention
During the general debate under agenda Item 4, Ireland expressed serious concern about adoption of legislation in Uganda, Russia and Nigeria that discriminate against LGBTI persons. Austria stated that the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda contracts international obligations and endangers lives. Norway urged Uganda to repeal the Act, stating that it was a threat to human rights defenders. Denmark expressed concern about the anti-homosexuality laws in both Nigeria and Uganda, and urged the laws be revised. COC Netherlands also made a statement expressing concern about the legislation in these three countries and called on the Council to pay systematic attention to human rights violations against LGBTI people.
Item 5 – Human rights bodies and mechanisms of the Council
Botswana, in a joint statement on behalf of 54 States, expressed concern about incidents of reprisals against individuals and organisations cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms, stating that reprisals are one of the means by which perpetrators of violations seek to avoid accountability. The EU, Ireland, Hungary, Norway and the ISHR also expressed concern about such cases of reprisals in their statements.
Item 6 – Universal Periodic Review
The Council adopted the working group reports from the 17th UPR session. States under review included Saudi Arabia, Senegal, China, Nigeria, Mexico, Mauritius, Jordan, Malaysia, Central African Republic, Monaco, Belize, Chad, Israel, Congo, and Malta. A full report of the UPR adoptions, prepared jointly by ARC, COC Netherlands and ILGA, is available at http://tiny.cc/uprhrc25
Item 8 – Follow up and implementation of the VDPA
SOGI-related issues were a key theme during the general debate under Item 8, with several States making extensive statements on the rights of LGBTI persons, including Greece (on behalf of the EU), the US, Germany, the UK, Brazil, France, Viet Nam, the Netherlands and Slovenia. Russia and Nigeria spoke in right of reply to the US statement, which criticised the recently passed legislation in the two States.
The Council adopted 42 resolutions at the end of the session, including on country situations (Sri Lanka, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Mali, South Sudan, Libya, Myanmar, and Israel and occupied territories). Thematic resolutions of interest included resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age, good governance, ending violence against children, housing, freedom of religion or belief, peaceful protests, cultural diversity, and education for persons with disabilities. The Council renewed Special Procedures mandates on freedom of expression, minority issues, racism, human rights defenders and torture. New mandate holders for Special Procedures mandates on human rights of older persons, right to housing, slavery, extreme poverty, food, and human rights defenders should be appointed in April 2014. A full list of the resolutions and voting records are available here (username: hrc extranet ; password: 1session ).
Side events and other meetings
The session also witnessed a historic first: the first ever side event exclusively dedicated to intersex issues, titled Intersex People and Human Rights: Violations, Voices and Visions. Co-sponsored by ARC International, International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), El Consorcio Latinoamericano de Trabajo sobre Intersexualidad, Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia, IntersexUK, Zwischengeschlecht.org, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE), the panellists presented both powerful testimonials and analysis, urging States to fulfil their responsibilities to stop human rights abuses directed against intersex persons, including violations of rights to health, dignity, equality, bodily autonomy, and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Several State delegates were moved to tears, and indicated afterwards that they understood for the first time that the “I” in LGBTI represented more than just an initial.
Additionally, a side event entitled Intersectionality and Impunity: locating Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity in the Human Rights Discourse took place on Wednesday 19 March 2014. The event was co-sponsored by Coalition of SOGI Malaysia, ICARH, ILGA, ISHR, JSA Consulting Group and the Sexual Rights Initiative. Panellists included human rights defenders from India, Malaysia, Nigeria and Switzerland as well as a representative of the OHCHR. The panel noted that violations are not perpetrated independently but are rather reinforced by cultures of impunity, which indeed vary by country and their system of law enforcement and that by looking at intersections in the promotion and protection of human rights, and in the impunities enjoyed by perpetrators of human rights violations, there could be a way to address the challenges in dealing with human rights issues at local, regional and international levels.
The panel also highlighted that homophobic laws being promulgated in countries like Nigeria and Uganda, as well as state-sponsored homophobic activities in Russia, India and other parts of the world, are actually part of wider culture of hetero-normativity and gender-stereotyping, often seeking to impose rigid gender norms. This, coupled with a culture of impunity leaves LGBTI persons and other communities vulnerable to human rights violations.
The event can be viewed here in full in two parts:
In a meeting with NGOs, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was thanked by a Nigerian human rights defender for her leadership on LGBTI issues, including her willingness to speak out against the Nigerian Same-sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, and asked what was being done to institutionalise SOGI issues within her Office, in order to ensure continuity when she steps down as High Commissioner later this year. The High Commissioner replied that it is her Office which is driving the agenda, that she seeks to break the ceiling in inter-governmental fora to bring adequate and sustained attention to SOGI issues, and that these are already institutionalised in the work of the Office. Three priorities were highlighted: decriminalisation, combating violence, and non-discrimination.
|Download our report of the session: HRC25 Report_ARC2014 (PDF)|