Archive for the 'United Nations' Category

Remarks opposing a UN General Assembly Amendment to Delay the Mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Amb. Samantha PowerAmbassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 19, 2016

AS DELIVERED

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.

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Related Content: 

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)

SOGI Mandate Safeguarded in Face of Hostility

Joint Civil Society Press Statement
21 November 2016 (New York) — The United Nations mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) has been safeguarded despite hostile contestation at the 71st Session of the 3rd Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City.
LGBTIQ activists and organizations around the world quickly mobilized to voice their concerns on the implications of the hostile resolution to national governments as well as at the United Nations headquarters in New York. A joint statement endorsed by 850 organizations from 157 countries around the world, highlighted the need for states to respect the authority of the Human Rights Council and to vote in favour of upholding the SOGI Independent Expert mandate.
“A lot can be accomplished when forces join hands. We are encouraged by this voting result and in the confirmation that States believe in the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council. It is vital that the integrity of the Human Rights Council remains intact and is not further undermined in the Third Committee,” stated Jessica Stern, Executive Director, OutRight Action International, the only US based LGBTIQ organization with consultative status at the United Nations.
The SOGI Independent Expert position on the “Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity (SOGI),” was mandated by the passing of a historic resolution A/HRC/RES/32/2 on June 30 of this year, and is held by Vitit Muntarbhorn, a human rights expert from Thailand. A campaign of 628 nongovernmental organizations from 151 countries advocated for the adoption of the resolution and for the establishment of the position.
In early November, Botswana, on behalf of the African Group, presented a hostile resolution on the Human Rights Council Annual Report, specifically targeting the SOGI Independent Expert Mandate. The resolution contested the legality of the creation of the mandate, essentially arguing that SOGI are not universally recognized as human rights and are not codified in international law. The resolution called for an indefinite postponement of the mandate until consensus could be reached on the definition of SOGI and the legal basis to which the mandate was created, the African Group statement read,
“We are alarmed that the Council is delving into matters which fall essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of States counter to the commitment in the United Nations Charter to respect the sovereignty of States and the principle of non-intervention. More importantly, it arises owing to the ominous usage of the two notions: sexual orientation and gender identity. We wish to state that those two notions are not and should not be linked to existing international human rights instruments.”
In response to the African Group resolution, submitted by Botswana, Monica Tabengwa, Botswana human rights activist and director of Pan Africa ILGA commented,
“We are deeply disappointed that Botswana led this fallacious move by the Africa Group to remove gains at the HRC to include SOGI protections within the existing human rights framework. Let us remind everyone that the SOGI mandate is about real people and their right to secure lives, to be free of violence and discrimination and that these lives can’t be postponed or deferred indefinitely. We deserve more from our governments”
The SOGI Independent Expert was created after adoption of a resolution in the Human Rights Council in June 2016, initiated by seven Latin American countries, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay. They, plus El Salvador (LAC 8), countered the African Group’s attempt to postpone the mandate by introducing an amendment to the resolution deleting the hostile paragraph.
An explanatory note provided by the eight Latin American countries on their submitted amendment in support of preserving the SOGI mandate and the integrity of the HRC reads,
“The seriousness of the consequences (…) lies in the fact that never before has a country or group of countries attempted to challenge a special procedures mandate by the Human Rights Council with an appointed and fully functioning mandate holder. (…) If the General Assembly reopens the Council’s annual report and use a selective approach to which resolution it seeks to block or defer indefinitely it would fundamentally undermine the authority granted to the Council by the General Assembly, thus having far reaching implications well beyond the specific resolution under consideration.”
While all 193 countries in the UN General Assembly had the right to vote, only 178 exercised their vote, resulting in the passing of the LAC 8 amendment, leading to the failure of the hostile resolution and dissipation of the immediate threat against the establishment of the SOGI Independent Expert. In total, 84 countries voted in favor of the LAC 8 amendment, 77 voted against the amendment, and 17 countries abstained from voting.
LGBTIQ civil society in the Asia and the Pacific region have vocalized their support for the SOGI Independent Expert, hoping that a representative from the region would help progress protections for people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. In response to the voting, Ryan Silverio, Regional Coordinator for the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus said,
“Today we are reminded of the fundamental mission of the Council, and the UN’s commitment to promote human rights and equality for all. We are encouraged by the open dialogue with ASEAN member states in the lead up of the vote, and are particularly thankful to Thailand for showing leadership to protecting this mandate,”
The failure of the proposed hostile resolution is significant not only because it reinstates the authority of the Human Rights Council, but it also allows forward movement on the work of the SOGI Independent Expert- a crucial stride in the UN’s commitment towards protecting the universality of human rights, especially for vulnerable communities. It reinforces the notion that people cannot be left behind and states must protect all people from discrimination and violence based on their SOGI.
“The SOGI Independent Expert position is vital in bringing to light the horrific acts of violence and discrimination many people face because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These abuses happen everywhere; no region or country is immune to them. Having concrete documentation showing the consequences of homophobia and transphobia on the lives of people and recommendations on how to address these challenges from an HRC Special Procedure mandate holder will help states take responsibility to protect LGBTQI persons. It will be much harder to ignore the facts,” commented Micah Grzywnowicz, trans activist and international advocacy advisor at RFSL, the Swedish Federation for LGBTQ Rights.
While the hostile resolution did not pass today, civil society has warned that future attempts to stop the progress of the SOGI Independent Expert are not out of the question.
The Expert will be tasked with assessing implementation of existing international human rights law, identifying best practices and gaps, raising awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, engaging in dialogue and consultation with States and other stakeholders, and facilitating provision of advisory services, technical assistance, capacity-building and cooperation to help address violence and discrimination on these grounds.
“As always, the fight continues to ensure that States don’t cherry pick which human rights to protect. We must continue to be vigilant and to mobilize to ensure that universality and non-discrimination triumphs at all levels. We must also ensure that we are working together to create change which will benefit all LGBTIQ people. Safeguarding human rights principles remains prime to peace and security for all people everywhere, anytime,” said Steve Letsike, Director of Access Chapter 2, a South African LGBTIQ human rights organization.

United Nations Makes History on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Press Statement from coalition of civil society organizations

UN human rights body establishes an Independent Expert

(Geneva, June 30, 2016) In a defining vote, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on “Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity”, to mandate the appointment of an Independent Expert on the subject. It is a historic victory for the human rights of all persons who are at risk of discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, 28 human rights groups said today. This resolution builds upon two previous resolutions, adopted by the Council in 2011 and 2014.

The Core Group of seven Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay – and 41 additional countries jointly presented the text.

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 23 in favor, 18 against and 6 abstentions.

“This is truly momentous,” said Micah Grzywnowicz from the Swedish Federation for LGBTQ Rights, RFSL. “This is our opportunity to bring international attention to specific violations and challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming persons in all regions. It’s time for international community to take responsibility to ensure that persons at risk of violence and discrimination because of gender identity are not left behind.”

“It’s an historic resolution,” added Josefina Valencia from International LGBTI Association for Latin America and the Caribbean, ILGA LAC. “Latin America has played a very important role to build a common course for the advancement of our human rights. We are proud of the international solidarity and the commitment shown by States for equality.”

The positive vote responds to a joint campaign of a record 628 nongovernmental organizations from 151 countries calling on the Council to adopt the resolution and create the SOGI Independent Expert.

”It is important to note that around 70% of the organizations are from the global south,” said Yahia Zaidi of MantiQitna Network. “This is a powerful cross regional message of strength to the United Nations to protect the rights of LGBTI persons. The Independent Expert will be a focal point for all violations based on SOGI and hence help grassroots organizations to better utilize the otherwise complex labyrinth of the UN system.”

The Expert will be tasked with assessing implementation of existing international human rights law, identifying best practices and gaps, raising awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, engaging in dialogue and consultation with States and other stakeholders, and facilitating provision of advisory services, technical assistance, capacity-building and cooperation to help address violence and discrimination on these grounds.

“To have an Independent Expert can be a ‘game-changer’ in counter-acting violence which fuels the HIV epidemic in key populations and more specifically in LGBT communities,” said Alain Kra of Espace Confiance.

“It will ease the work of all human rights defenders and it is essential for our governments and people to have the knowledge on how to protect LGBT communities from any violence and discrimination they face,” added Joleen Mataele of the Tonga Leiti’s Association.

Although a number of hostile amendments seeking to introduce notions of cultural relativism were adopted into the text by vote, the core of the resolution affirming the universal nature of international human rights law stood firm.

We hope that this resolution will mark a turning point in the struggle to create a world free from violence and discrimination for all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.


Results of the vote

Voting in favor of the resolution

Albania, Belgium, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Macedonia, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, UK, Venezuela, Viet Nam

Voting against the resolution

Algeria, Bangladesh, Burundi, China, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Morocco, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Togo, United Arab Emirates

Abstaining on the resolution

Botswana, Ghana, India, Namibia, Philippines, South Africa

Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power at the White House Dialogue on Global LGBT Human Rights

Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Washington, DC
June 29, 2016

It’s amazing to be here and to be with all of you. This is a really important thing to do, particularly in light of recent events, but anyway, to step back, and to look back at what has been achieved in this last five years. From the diplomatic corps representatives who are here, to civil society representatives – each of you have played a really critical role in bringing us to where we are today. I’m only going to speak very briefly, but do want to pull a few of the highlights out of the last five years and look at the legacy of the Presidential Memorandum, which is itself just a symptom of the President’s leadership.

Five years ago, when I was in the position occupied brilliantly now by Steve Pomper, I had the privilege, along with Ambassador David Pressman, who you will hear from a little bit later, of helping President Obama shepherd this historic LGBT memorandum through the U.S. government. When he signed the Presidential Memorandum – I remember as if it was yesterday – the response inside the government, as well as outside the government, was immediate. And in particular, I will never forget the outpouring of emotion from people around the United States – again, whether inside or outside the government – but also around the world, when they heard that LGBTI rights was being embedded, as Josh put it, into the DNA of the U.S. government. Continue reading ‘Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power at the White House Dialogue on Global LGBT Human Rights’

The Place of Human Rights

The Place of Human RightsAnother new year. Another chance to put things right.

For the Council for Global Equality, that means elevating the place of human rights – including those of LGBT, intersex and other vulnerable minorities – in America’s foreign policy.

The year of 2015 brought incredible progress on LGBT rights around the world. Marriage equality was won here in the United States as well as in Mexico and Ireland; Malta passed the world’s most protective law for transgender and intersex citizens; and Mozambique got rid of its colonial-era anti-sodomy law once and for all.

Yet challenges and dangers continue to confront LGBT people. ISIS continues to hunt down and kill suspected LGBT individuals in its territory. Refugees fleeing persecution last year reached a new post-World War II high, with LGBT refugees among the most vulnerable of them. And from Russia to Egypt, a broad array of countries continue to deny rights to their own LGBT citizens while leading the charge at the United Nations to deny human rights to LGBT individuals everywhere.

We enter the last full year of the Obama Administration with pride and respect for what our country has helped accomplish to ensure that LGBT people are no longer excluded from universal human rights protections. A White House conference last year identified new opportunities for our embassies to respond to escalating violence against LGBT persons globally. A new U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons is mobilizing diplomatic efforts to challenge LGBT human rights violations and to build alliances in the quest for equality. And last year, the Administration sought to build a case for global support for LGBT refugees fleeing targeted persecution, including through the first-ever briefing on that topic for the UN Security Council in August.

Perhaps most important, the Obama Administration last year leveraged our public diplomacy and development tools as never before to promote citizen exchanges, highlight the voices and messages of local LGBT leaders and help fund LGBT organizations to promote global equality. The President himself spoke in support of LGBT rights in many of his travels abroad. These efforts, amplified by our investments in educational and development opportunities through USAID and the State Department’s growing Global Equality Fund, bear witness to the Obama Administration’s unprecedented commitment to equality for LGBT individuals everywhere.

If we are to hold other governments accountable for how they honor and safeguard the rights of their LGBT citizens, we must continue to push our own towards even greater consistency and impactful actions. Over the next two weeks, we will set forth the expectations we hold of our own government in this regard.

The steps that are – or aren’t – taken in 2016 will etch the final and most compelling stories of this Administration’s human rights legacy. Then it will be up to us, the human rights community, to hold the next Administration accountable to this country’s proud tradition of standing up for universal human rights at every turn.

Twelve UN Agencies Issue Unprecedented Joint Statement on Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Intersex People

UNHRC logo, Universal Periodic Review, White HousePress statement from Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

In an unprecedented joint initiative, 12 UN agencies* today issued a powerful joint call to action on ending violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) adults, adolescents and children.

“This is the first time that so many members of the UN family have joined forces in defence of the basic rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people,” said the UN Human Rights Office’s Chief of Global Issues, Charles Radcliffe. “It’s both an expression of commitment on the part of UN agencies, and a powerful call to action for Governments around the world to do more to tackle homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination and abuses against intersex people.”

The statement highlights the link between human rights abuses against LGBTI people and ill health, family break-up, social and economic exclusion and lost opportunities for development and economic growth. It sets out specific steps that Governments, in particular, should take to curb violence and protect individuals from discrimination – including measures to improve the investigation and reporting of hate crimes, torture and ill-treatment, prohibit discrimination, and review and repeal all laws used to arrest, punish or discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

“Violence and discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, gender identity and biological sex characteristics violate their human rights and impoverish whole communities. That is why United Nations agencies working across such a wide range of areas – from human rights to health, education, employment, development, children’s rights, gender equality, food security and refugees – have come together to push for change,” Radcliffe said. “While the symbolism of this is important, the practical recommendations we are putting forward are more important. We hope this statement can provide a blueprint to Governments, as well as to UN teams on the ground in countries around the world,” he added.

The joint UN statement on “Ending Violence and Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People” has been endorsed by 12 UN entities: the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Secretariat, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UN Women, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

US government says it will now use the term ‘sexual rights’

Repost from the Washington Post

UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. government says it will begin using the term “sexual rights” in discussions of human rights and global development.

The statement at a U.N. meeting this week comes after years of lobbying from groups who have argued that the U.S. should show global leadership on the rights of people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

The statement, posted on a State Department website, says sexual rights include people’s “right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”

The Washington-based Center for Health and Gender Equity pointed out the statement Thursday and said it was delighted.

“On one level, it’s symbolic. It also sends a signal to the global community that sexual and reproductive health and rights are a part of the global development agenda,” Serra Sippel, the center’s president, told The Associated Press. She said it follows “huge strides” made under the Obama administration on LGBT issues.

The announcement comes days before more than 150 world leaders gather at the U.N. to launch an ambitious set of development goals, including one of gender equality. One of the agenda’s many targets is to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights by 2030. Continue Reading


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