12 December 2012

Africa: Ban Calls for End to Violence and Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People

Joined by international musical artists Ricky Martin and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, amongst others, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for an end to violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

"Let me say this loud and clear: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. They, too, are born free and equal," Mr. Ban said at a special event on the need for leadership in the fight against homophobia, held at UN Headquarters in New York.

"It is an outrage that in our modern world, so many countries continue to criminalize people simply for loving another human being of the same sex. In most cases, these laws are not home-grown. They were inherited from former colonial powers," he added, noting that "these laws must go."

The event - co-organized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and a range of permanent missions to the world body, as well as Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission - is linked to Human Rights Day, which took place on Monday.

The General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948 - and the date has since served to mark Human Rights Day worldwide. The UDHR sets out a broad range of fundamental human rights and freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any distinction.

In December 2011, OHCHR published the first official UN report on violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The report documented widespread human rights abuses. More than 76 countries still criminalize consensual, same-sex relationships, while in many more discrimination against LGBT people is widespread - including the workplace and in the education and health sectors. Hate-motivated violence against LGBT people, including physical assault, sexual violence, and targeted killings, has been recorded in all regions.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General noted that the UDHR, in its very first article, proclaims that 'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.'

"All human beings - not some, not most, but all," Mr. Ban pointed out. "No one gets to decide who is entitled to human rights and who is not."

According to OHCHR, while opinion among States remains divided on the issue, sentiment has shifted significantly in recent years. In 2005, when the first joint statement on human rights sexual orientation and gender identity was proposed at the then-Commission on Human Rights, only 32 States signed on.

By 2011, that number had grown to 85, reflecting growing awareness that acts of violence and discriminatory laws and practices against LGBT people warrant the attention of the world body. In June last year, the Human Rights Council adopted the first UN resolution on violence and discrimination against LGBT people.

Those taking part in today's special event included France's Minister for Women's Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem; Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, via video-link from South Africa; Blas Radi, Olena Shevchenko and Gift Trapence, LGBT human rights defenders from Argentina, Ukraine and Malawi, respectively; as well as South African musician, singer and campaigner Yvonne Chaka Chaka, and pop singer Ricky Martin.

"We must all speak out against homophobia, especially those who are considered leaders in society as well as others in the public eye," Mr. Ban told the gathering.

Speaking from her experiences as a South African woman born under apartheid, Ms. Chaka Chaka said that the fight against homophobia was no different from the fights against racism and sexism.

"The struggle for equality is not a la carte. You can't just accept equality for some but then withhold it from others because you disagree with them or you disapprove of them. Equality is equality for all or it isn't equality at all," she said, in addition to calling for more celebrities to take a stand against homophobia.

"We are not asking for special rights," Mr. Martin told the gathering. "We are only asking for the same rights. We don't want to be more or less; we just want to be the same."

In his video message, Archbishop Tutu said, "We cannot claim that our societies are free and equal as long as some amongst us are treated as inferior, denied even their basic human rights."

The Secretary-General - who launched an international appeal two years ago for action to end violence and discrimination against LGBT people - noted that when he speaks with world leaders about the need for equality for LGBT people, many say they wish they could do more, but point to public opinion as a barrier to progress.

"I understand it can be difficult to stand up to public opinion. But just because a majority might disapprove of certain individuals does not entitle the State to withhold their basic rights," he said. "Democracy is more than majority rule. It requires defending vulnerable minorities from hostile majorities. It thrives on diversity. Governments have a duty to fight prejudice, not fuel it."

The permanent missions to the UN which took part in co-organising today's special event were those of Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, the European Union, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the United States. Mr. Ban expressed his gratitude to the "cross-regional LGBT core group of Member States" for their efforts and hoped that many other countries will join the group.

"You and I and people of conscience everywhere must keep pushing until we realize the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for all people," the UN chief added. "The freedom, dignity and equal rights that all people are born with - must be a living reality each and every day of their lives."

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