Thursday, December 15, 2011

UN Issues its First Report on Rights of LGBT Persons

The first ever United Nations report on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people details how around the world people are killed or endure hate-motivated violence, torture, detention, criminalization and discrimination in jobs, health care and education because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  The report, released this week by the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, outlines “a pattern of human rights violations emerges that demands a response,” and says governments have too often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Homophobic and transphobic violence has been recorded in every region of the world, the report finds, and ranges from murder, kidnappings, assaults and rapes to psychological threats and arbitrary deprivations of liberty.  LGBT people are often targets of organized abuse from religious extremists, paramilitary groups, neo-Nazis, extreme nationalists and others, as well as family and community violence, with lesbians and transgender women at particular risk.

“Violence against LGBT persons tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes,” the report notes, citing data indicating that homophobic hate crimes often include “a high degree of cruelty and brutality.”  Violent incidents or acts of discrimination frequently go unreported because victims do not trust police, are afraid of reprisals or are unwilling to identify themselves as LGBT.

The report – prepared in response to a request from the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year – draws from information included in past UN reporting, official statistics on hate crimes where there are available, and reporting by regional organizations and some non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  In the report, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calls on countries to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality, abolish the death penalty for offences involving consensual sexual relations, harmonize the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual conduct, and enact comprehensive anti-discrimination laws.  In 76 countries it remains illegal to engage in same-sex conduct and in at least five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – the death penalty prevails.

Ms. Pillay recommends that Member States also promptly investigate all killings or serious violent incidents perpetrated because of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and to establish systems to record such incidents.  The High Commissioner also calls on countries to ensure that no one fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is returned to a territory where their life or freedom is at threat, and that asylum laws recognize that sexual orientation or gender identity is a valid basis for claiming persecution.  Public information campaigns should be introduced, especially in schools, to counter homophobia, and police and law enforcement officials should also receive training to ensure LGBT people are treated appropriately and fairly. 

Charles Radcliffe, the report’s lead author and chief of OHCHR’s global issues section, told UN Radio that “one of the things we found is if the law essentially reflects homophobic sentiment, then it legitimizes homophobia in society at large. If the State treats people as second class or second rate or, worse, as criminals, then it’s inviting people to do the same thing.”  He stressed that all UN Member States have an obligation under international human rights law to decriminalize homosexuality, adding it was important to persuade rather than lecture States to change their laws.  “I think we have seen the balance of opinion amongst States really shifting significantly in recent years. Some 30 countries have decriminalized homosexuality in the last two decades or so.”

Mr. Radcliffe said that while all people have freedom of religion, “no religious belief or prevailing cultural values can justify stripping people of their basic rights.”  The report, which will be discussed by Council members at a meeting in March next year, has been released as top UN officials have increasingly raised concerns about human rights violations against LGBT people.  Last year, in a speech marking Human Rights Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that “as men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”  Ms. Pillay, during a public conversation last week on social media, also called for an end to bullying and other forms of persecution of LGBT people.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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