While those committed to a politics of deepening intersectionality of work on LGBTI issues can think through the relationship of LGBTI issues with a range of human rights concerns, this section will highlight two key resolutions, one on human rights defenders and the other on Palestine, which have intersectional implications for advocacy on the rights of LGBTI people.
RESOLUTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
As noted above, the strongest push back against the human rights framework, in the 31st Session was with respect to the resolution on human rights defenders. The resolution itself recognized the ‘positive, important and legitimate role of human rights defenders in promoting and advocating the realization of all economic, social and cultural rights’ and stressed that ‘everyone individually and in association with others, shall be free to determine themselves which rights to address’ through ‘the exercise of their rights, including through advocacy, reporting and seeking information on human rights violations and abuses by States and non State actors.’
Throughout the informal negotiations on the text, states such as Russia, China, Egypt, Cuba and Pakistan sought to strip the resolution of all meanings by trying to remove all references to human rights defenders. When it came to the voting stage, these states then moved 30 hostile amendments, which sought to destroy the very concept and hence mandate of the human rights defender.
In response to the overt hostility towards the mandate on human rights defenders, over 180 NGO’s which including a number of NGO’s working on SOGI issues united to call on Member States of the Council to adopt the resolution and preserve the mandate. The letter noted:
The amendments being advocated by Russia, China, Egypt, Cuba and Pakistan should be seen in the context of the systematic efforts currently underway in several of these States to restrict and criminalise the important and legitimate work of human rights defenders and independent civil society organisations in violation of international human rights law. The proposal to weaken language on reprisals should similarly be understood in the context of several of the proposing States being the subject of allegations of intimidation or reprisals in both the Secretary-General’s report and the joint communications report of Special Procedures.
The joint letter called for states to vote to reject the series of 30 hostile amendments proposed by Russia, China, Egypt, Cuba and Pakistan, which were designed to undermine the protection of defenders and to deny their legitimacy and very existence.
In the final vote it was a sweeping victory for the Norwegian-led resolution, developed in close consultation with civil society and sponsored by over 60 States from all regions. It was adopted by a vote of 33 Member States of the Human Rights Council to just 6 against. Eight States in the 47-seat Council abstained. It is interesting to note that the strongest opponents to the resolution, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia were also the most vociferous opponents of any progress on rights of LGBTI people in the Human Rights Council.
The question to ask is whether there is any larger congruence between the interests of human rights defenders and LGBTI rights, which tells us why those working on LGBTI rights should support the mandate on human rights defenders.
The main reason why LGBTI rights advocates should be strong supporters of the mandate of protecting human rights defenders is the reality of the state of LGBTI rights worldwide. It’s a fact that in many parts of the world LGBTI rights are not an established reality. It is at best an issue that is gradually making headway. For the issue of the rights of LGBTI persons to move forward, it is imperative that the state protects and facilitates the work of human rights defenders. As Mr. Forst rightly noted ‘Defenders who challenge social and cultural norms, do not fit stereotypes and prescribed roles, or who challenge power structures in society – such as defenders of sexual orientation and gender identity rights,’ in particular need protection both from the state and from vigilante elements in society. Hence the defenders mandate is crucial for the emerging civil society activism on LGBTI rights around the world.
The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders has in his work understood the importance of the defenders mandate for the LGBTI issue. Mr. Forst has integrated the challenging situation faced by LGBTI human rights defenders due to their unique vulnerabilities in his mandate. The work of Mr. Forst illustrates powerfully the connections between protecting human rights defenders and thereby preserving a space for LGBTI activism. (See Section above on Human rights defenders)
The importance of the work of human rights defenders is even more crucial in contexts where LGBTI people are subject to relentless persecution. In countries like Egypt for example it is mainstream human rights organisations which provide the only space for the articulation of LGBTI rights. Thus in situations of extreme persecution, LGBTI activists keep alive their issues under the broader framework of human rights.
RESOLUTIONS ON THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
The Reports that were the subject of the interactive dialogue outlined the grave situation in the occupied Palestinian territories both in Gaza and the West Bank. The West Bank witnessed ‘extensive unwarranted use of firearms by the Israeli Security Forces against youth, women and children. In a blatant disregard for international law and human rights law, Israel continued to inflict collective punishment including punitive demolitions of houses of families of those who were involved in or suspected of perpetrating attacks on Israel. To give an example, Mr. Abu Jamal was killed when he attacked a West Jerusalem synagogue. In retaliation, Israeli authorities evicted his parents and siblings from their family house. ‘All entry points to the house were welded shut and concrete was poured inside, virtually up to the ceiling in most rooms, rendering the house inhabitable.’ (A/HRC/31/40)
In Gaza the High Commissioner’s Report highlighted that the blockade of Gaza was a form of collective punishment that had serious human rights implications. The report also noted that, ‘in the reporting period, Israel carried out ‘31 airstrikes in Gaza’. IDF also conducted ‘46 incursions up to 300 meters into Gaza, leveling the ground and compromising access of local farmers to their livelihood’
There were three resolutions on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. The sponsors of the resolutions on Palestine and those who have been in unwavering support include countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia.
The resolution on ‘human rights in the occupied territory including East Jerusalem’ had 42 votes in favour and only 5 abstentions. All the western states voted in favour of the resolution. However when it came to the resolution on ‘ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem’ the votes in favour were 32 with 15 abstentions. The abstentions included prominent western states such as Germany, United Kingdom and the Netherlands as well as prominent southern states like India.
What is striking about the voting on the Palestine related resolutions is the lack of leadership of the ‘human rights champions’ in the Council. The question that is thrown up in a powerful way is the question of selectivity and bias when it comes to the support of human rights by western states. The states that are supportive of LGBTI rights often have a long way to go to embrace more fully, the principle of universality. Until such time as they embody a less instrumental and more ethical approach to the principle of universality, they will always be vulnerable to the charge of double standards.
As such any positive movement of this group on compelling global human rights concerns is of key importance to the advocacy of LGBTI issues. The issue LGBTI advocates face in their own societies is the wrongful assertion that LGBTI rights serves the interests of the powerful western states. When western states are seen to be hesitant when it comes to human rights issues which are of deep concern in the global south such as Palestine, it undermines their status as those honestly concerned about human rights and this has implications for the advocacy of LGBTI rights.
The right way forward on the key issue of the rights of the Palestinian people, is for western states to more closely align with the majority opinion in the Council which is that the rights of the Palestinian people to enjoyment of all human rights under international law is impeded by the illegal Israeli occupation, which must end. Such a position can only benefit advocacy of SOGI rights internationally.
For further information on HRC31:
Arvind Narrain | Geneva Director | email@example.com
Kim Vance | Executive Director | firstname.lastname@example.org
All documents referenced in this Report can be found at: