Today the United Nations General
Assembly is expected to read a resolution endorsed by more than 50
countries around the world that addresses rights violations based on
sexual orientation and gender identity. It calls for the universal
decriminalization of being gay.
Human Rights Watch has urged all
countries to support the statement. So far, 55 have done so
including: Andorra, Armenia, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Canada, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Chile, Ecuador,
Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Montenegro,
New Zealand, San Marino, Serbia, Switzerland, the Former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia, Uruguay, and Venezuela, along with all 27
European Union member states.
More than 80 countries have laws
against homosexuality, including nine that prescribe death as
punishment. “This statement shows a growing global consensus that
such abusive laws have outlived their time,” said Grace Poore of
Malaysia, who works with the International Gay and Lesbian Human
A Human Rights Watch report delivered
on December 17 found that more than half of the world's remaining
laws criminalizing being gay are relics of British colonial rule.
The roots of anti-gay laws from nearly
40 countries can be traced back to a single instance imposed by
British colonial rulers on India in 1860, say the authors of This
Alien Legacy: The Origins of “Sodomy” Laws in British
Colonialism. Ironically, homosexuality remains illegal in India,
where the UN has pressured a high court to abolish the practice. A
decision is expected early next year.
“From Malaysia to Uganda, governments
use these laws to harass civil society, restrict free expression,
discredit enemies, and destroy lives,” said Scott Long, director of
the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human
Rights Watch. “And sodomy laws add to the spread of HIV/AIDS by
criminalizing outreach to affected groups.
Gay rights leaders in the United States
were appalled to learn of the Vatican's opposition to the resolution
because it might promote gay marriage.
“As faith leaders we were shocked by
Vatican opposition to this proposed initiative,” a coalition of gay
rights leaders said in a statement. “Most Catholics, and indeed
most Catholic teachings, tell us that all people are entitled to live
with basic human dignity without the threat of violence.”
The statement signed on by the Human
Rights Campaign, along with faith program directors from the National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against
Defamation and National Black Justice Coalition also urged “U.S.
Leaders to stand against discrimination.”
“In 1948 the world's nations set
forth the promise of human rights, but six decades later, the promise
is unfulfilled for many,” said Linda Baumann of Namibia, a board
member of Pan Africa ILGA, a coalition of pro-gay groups. “The
unprecedented African support for this statement sends a message that
abuses against LGBT people are unacceptable anywhere, ever.”
The statement carries no power of law,
but it does send a powerful signal to the world. It condemns
violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization and
prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And
declares that targeting gays for executions or killings, torture,
arbitrary arrest or deprivation of economic, social and cultural
rights is wrong.
“Universal means universal, and there
are no exceptions,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights programs at Human
Rights Watch. “The UN must speak forcefully against violence and
prejudice, because there is no room for half measures where human
rights are concerned.”
Louis-Georges Tin, the founder of the
International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO), who believes that the
gay community will not advanced until societal homophobia is
eradicated said: “It is a great achievement that this initiative
has made it to the level of the General Assembly. It shows our
common struggles are successful and should be reinforced.”
The reading marks the first time the
General Assembly has formally addressed the issue.