Secretary-General Says Social Attitudes Run Deep, Take Time to Change, but Cultural Considerations Should Not Impede Basic Human Rights

Published: September 17, 2010

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message, as delivered by Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, to an event on ending violence and criminal sanctions based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in Geneva, today, 17 September:

It is a pleasure to greet all the participants in this event taking place during the fifteenth regular session of the Human Rights Council.

Human rights make up one of the three pillars of the United Nations, alongside development and peace and security.  Protecting human rights means protecting the rights of everyone, without distinction or discrimination, and paying particular attention to the most vulnerable and marginalized, who may face special obstacles to the full enjoyment of their rights.

In this context, I recognize the particular vulnerability of individuals who face criminal sanctions, including imprisonment and in some cases the death penalty, on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Laws criminalizing people on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity violate the principle of non-discrimination.  They also fuel violence, help to legitimize homophobia and contribute to a climate of hate.  That is why, in May of this year, during a visit to Malawi, I called for such laws to be reformed worldwide.

No doubt deeply rooted cultural sensitivities can be aroused when we talk about sexual orientation.  Social attitudes run deep and take time to change.  But cultural considerations should not stand in the way of basic human rights.

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