High Commissioner Continues Push for LGBT Rights Despite Setbacks

Published: October 18, 2012

NEW YORK, October 19 (C-FAM) UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay is not one to shy away from controversy. UN member states have repeatedly complained about attempts to turn sexual orientation and gender identity into categories of international law, but Ms. Pillay refuses to back away from making it a priority.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is continuing to spearhead efforts to make lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights into human rights. The efforts range from engaging in advocacy within the UN system, to issuing glossy publications directed at the public, like the most recent one, “Born Free and Equal: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in International Human Rights Law”.

The new publication lays out five “core legal obligations of states with respect to protecting the human rights of LGBT persons” to which, according to the OHCHR, UN member states are already subject. The obligations are: Protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence; Prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of LGBT persons; decriminalize homosexuality; Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Respect freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

In the forward to the publication, Ms. Pillay repeats the assertion that recognizing sexual orientation and gender identity in international law does not require the creation of new rights.

Nevertheless, the OHCHR is calling for countries to change their laws substantially. These changes include, among other things, repealing all laws that prohibit private sexual conduct between consenting adults of the same sex, creating criminal task forces and record keeping mechanisms for violence against LGBT persons, creating asylum categories for LGBT persons, and extending the benefits that married couples enjoy to same sex couples.

The new publication, made available online in September, comes on the heels of a very bad year for sexual orientation and gender identity advocacy at the UN.

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