March 22, 2011 — In a stunning development for the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, today, Colombia delivered a Joint Statement during General Debate (Agenda Item 8 – Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action) that called on States to end violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and urged the Human Rights Council to address these important human rights issues. The statement was delivered on behalf of a broad grouping of 85 States from all regions of the world.
Today's statement enjoyed the support of the largest group of countries to-date, on the topic of sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights. It builds on a similar statement delivered by Norway at the Human Rights Council in 2006 (on behalf of 54 States), and a joint statement delivered by Argentina at the General Assembly in 2008 (on behalf of 66 States). It is clear that every time these issues are addressed there is measurable increase in state support.
During the same general debate, an intervention delivered by Nigeria on behalf of the African Group, still reaffirmed the critical point that "laws that criminalize sexual orientation should be expunged". Other UN Member States and entities, for example, the Russian Federation and the Holy See, also spoke out against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. South Africa, a signatory to the State joint statement, emphasized in a separate intervention, that sexual orientation is not a new issue for that country, and called for an inter-governmental process to ensure open dialogue on the issue.
Earlier in this 16th session of the Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, had stated to the Council: "We are not trying to create new or special rights. We are simply trying to address the challenges that prevent millions of people from enjoying the same human rights as their fellow human beings just because they happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender." [Interactive Dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, Item 3, 16th session of the HRC.]
A powerful civil society statement was delivered on behalf of 119 organizations from over 60 countries welcoming the Joint Statement. Civil society also encouraged future dialogue within the Council, with the support of those States which did not yet feel able to join the statement, but which share the concern of the international community at these systemic human rights abuses. They also reiterated that the Council cannot refuse to address or discuss human rights violations against any individuals.
A group of 19 National Human Rights Institutions, including those from Korea, Senegal and South Africa, also delivered a strong statement on the importance of condemning human rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These institutions are important for addressing the human rights violations — including investigating complaints, reviewing laws and policies, holding national inquiries and public education — to better protect and promote the rights of LGBTI [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex] people.
The Joint Statement supports what UN human rights bodies have repeatedly expressed: that no one should face rights violations because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Since the UN Human Rights Committee's landmark decision in 1994, affirming that sexual orientation is a protected ground against discrimination, United Nations experts have repeatedly acted against abuses that target LGBT people, including killings, torture, rape, violence, disappearances, and discrimination in many areas of life. UN treaty bodies have called on states to end discrimination in law and policy. The Human Rights Committee monitors State Parties' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
March 23, 2011 — “The joint statement was supported by predominantly Catholic countries such as Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Timor-Leste, Uruguay, and Venezuela,” said Attorney Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights.
“The Philippines did not express support to the Joint Statement just like its failure to support the December 22, 2010 United Nations General Assembly resolution which included protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from extrajudicial executions (EJE) and other unlawful killings based on sexual orientation,” continued Atty. Padilla.
Even the Holy See spoke out against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation through its intervention stating, “A state should never punish a person, or deprive a person of the enjoyment of any human right, based just on the person’s feelings and thoughts, including sexual thoughts and feelings.” In December 2008, the Holy See publicly urged states "to do away with criminal penalties" against homosexuals and again in December 2009 with its statement before the UN stating, "The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person."
Atty. Padilla added, “It is a dangerous precedent for the Philippine government not to express support for such UN statements denouncing human rights violations based on one’s sexual orientation and gender identity. The Philippines should uphold universal human rights where all rights apply to everyone including if one is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In this important statement, the Philippine government failed to stand up for the rights of LGBTs not just in the Philippines but around the world.”
“In the past years, there have been numerous reports in the Philippines of gay men being murdered and transgender people being beaten and harassed without clear investigations and active prosecution being conducted leading to the perpetuation of abuses with impunity. The Philippines must perform its obligation to prevent, investigate and prosecute human rights abuses including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Atty. Padilla concluded.