Address by Ms. Navanetham Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the theme of human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity
World Congress, Paris, 15 May 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to extend my congratulations to the French Government for organising this important conference, and to state my support for its efforts to follow up with the statement of December 18th 2008 by the General Assembly on this tissue
Building on that groundbreaking statement, your conference seeks pathways towards reaching the goal of universal decriminalisation of homosexuality, lesbianism and gender dysphoria. Such recognition would be a vital step towards achieving equality, Much more needs to be done.
The initiative by States in December was prompted by the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let me reiterate today that the UDHR is not just aspirational – it is customary law, with universal applicability. As such States have an obligation to ensure its realization. The principle of universality admits no exception. The criminalization of different sexual orientation cannot be justified either as a matter of law or as a matter of morality. I wish to add that States have a responsibility, and indeed a duty, to protect all individuals from violence, torture, harassment and intimidation.
Let me also underscore that the statement of the General Assembly enjoyed broad support.. Even its opponents did not seek to justify criminalization or to condone violence against homosexuals, lesbians and transgendered individuals. The focus was rather on questioning the notion of sexual orientation and the possible creation of new rights. Fears for the sanctity of the family, and for unwittingly shielding pedophiles from justice were also expressed. These fears need to be addressed. I believe that this can be done through a human rights approach which upholds, non discrimination and invokes the applicability of criminal law where actual crimes occur, as in the sexual abuse of children.
A clear understanding and advocacy of relevant human rights law is needed if we wish to allay the fears that these States have voiced. The jurisprudence of treaty bodies, in particular the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Economic Rights, has produced a considerable body of decisions affirming that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is contrary to international human rights law. This provides all of us with a sound basis which we need to continue to build upon as we move towards establishing real equality
In conclusion, allow me to underscore that the General Assembly’s statement unequivocally called on all States to take the necessary measures to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties. As High Commissioner for Human Rights, I give my absolute support to that call.
OHCHR will continue to work with both States and civil society to achieve the goals of , decriminalization and equality.
I wish you a productive discussion.