Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 19, 2016
Thank you, Mr. President. The United States will vote “no” on the amendment proposed by the African Group to delay part of the report by the Human Rights Council, and we strongly encourage other countries to join us in rejecting this amendment.
You have heard, and may hear more, so-called procedural arguments made by other countries for adopting this amendment. These arguments are unsubstantiated, unjustified, and unprecedented.
The UN Human Rights Council currently has 57 mandate holders under special procedures – 43 on thematic issues, and 14 on countries or territories. Yet never before has the General Assembly sought to challenge a special procedures mandate holder after it has been appointed and is fully functioning.
The supporters of this amendment say that they have concerns about what they call the “legal basis” for the mandate for the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. On the surface, raising concerns about one out of the more than a hundred resolutions adopted this year by the Human Rights Council may not seem like such a big deal. But for the General Assembly to seek to open the Human Rights Council’s report over the contents of a single resolution – a resolution creating a mandate that is squarely within the Council’s authority – would set a hugely problematic precedent.
In previous years, the purpose of this General Assembly resolution has been simply to “take note” of the Human Rights Council’s annual report. Were this amendment to be adopted, it would, going forward, be fair game for the General Assembly to open up and re-litigate resolutions that have long history of going into effect immediately. That would undermine the authority, the independence, and the efficiency of the Human Rights Council.
In addition to setting this dangerous procedural precedent, this amendment is deeply flawed on the merits. The proponents of the amendment argue in their explanatory note that their reason for seeking a delay was that, “there is no international agreement on the definition of the concept of ‘sexual orientation and gender identity.’” That is patently false. The issue of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well established and well understood. It has been referred to in resolutions and statements adopted by the Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly. It has been the focus of nearly 1,300 recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review, leading to recommendations that have been accepted by more than 100 UN Member States, including several of the countries that proposed this amendment. And it has been addressed repeatedly by various regional bodies, including the Organization of American States, the European Court of Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights.
In reality, this amendment has little to do with questions around the definition of sexual orientation and gender identity. Instead, this amendment is rooted in a real disagreement over whether people of a certain sexual orientation and gender identity are, in fact, entitled to equal rights. And it is being driven by a group of UN Member States that believe it is acceptable to treat people differently because of who they are or who they love.
For our part, the United States believes that discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity is no different from discriminating against people for the color of their skin, for discriminating against them because of their sex, or because of their nationality. It is wrong. Such discrimination cuts against the very essence of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is not an issue of the North trying to impose its values on the South; it is an issue of respecting the dignity and human rights of all people, everywhere. That is what we mean when we say that LGBTI rights are universal human rights.
The United States also believes that the resolution creating the Independent Expert to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well-merited by the facts on the ground. For who here today would argue that LGBTI people are treated equally around their world, or that they are not subject to violence and discrimination? Nobody can argue that on the basis of the facts. This is a world we live in which, according to a report issued in 2015 by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “the overall picture remains one of continuing, pervasive, violent abuse, harassment, and discrimination affecting LGBT and intersex persons in all regions…often perpetrated with impunity.” A world today in which it is still considered acceptable in certain places to throw people off of the rooftops of buildings, or to prevent them from forming a local organization, or to deny them a seat in a classroom – simply because of who they are or who they love. In that world – in our world, the world of today – we have every reason to want an independent expert to monitor and seek to prevent violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
That includes addressing the issue right here in the United States. For while LGBTI people no longer have to hide who they love to serve in our nation’s military or our Foreign Service – people in the United States can still be fired from a job because of their sexual orientation, and an estimated four in every 10 transgender people in America attempt suicide – approximately 30 times the national average. We, too, have seen our share of horrific violence against LGBT people. As many of you will remember, on June 12 of this year, a gunman attacked innocent civilians at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 innocent people. These individuals were targeted simply because they were LGBT people.
Let me close. One of the victims in that attack was 32-year-old Christopher Leinonen, who, as a teenager, was brave enough to be the only student to come out of the closet in his high school of 2,500 people. Christopher endured taunts, harassments, and even threats for telling people who he was and for founding his school’s first gay-straight alliance.
Tell me, why would any Member State stand in the way of trying to prevent violence like the attack at that Orlando nightclub?
If you believe that people should not be discriminated against, or harassed, or attacked, or killed for who they are and for who they love, please join the United States in voting against this amendment. Thank you.
U.N. committee again rejects motion to suspend LGBT watchdog (Washington Blade)
African States Narrowly Fail to Stop UN Gay Rights Envoy Work (Voice of America VOA)