United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined by international musical artists is calling for an end to violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Speaking on Tuesday at a special event held at UN Headquarters in New York for leadership in the fight against homophobia, Ban argued that lesbian, gay; bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else, saying "They, too, are born free and equal."
The permanent missions to the UN which took part in co-organizing Tuesday's special event were those of Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, the European Union, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the United States.
Those taking part in Wednesday's special event included France's Minister for Women's Rights, NajatVallaud-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.
At the event, the UN Chief observed that so many countries continue to criminalize people simply for loving another human being of the same sex, and that in most cases, these laws are not home-grown, but are rather inherited from former colonial powers, saying "these laws must go."
Two years after launching an international appeal for action to end violence and discrimination against LGBT people, the Secretary General said yesterday 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.
Ban furthered that "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."
He however expressed 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 freedom, dignity and equal rights that all people are born with - must be a living reality each and every day of their lives," the UN Chief said in closing.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which co-organized the event and a range of permanent missions to the world body including 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, disclosing that 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.
The OHCHR revealed that while opinion among States remains divided on the issue, sentiment has shifted significantly in recent years.
The OHCHR recalled that 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, it said the 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.
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.
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."