NEW YORK, November 18, 2011 (C-FAM) – The current session of the General Assembly ends in less than a month. No resolution proposed thus far mentions LGBT rights.
Despite earlier fears by many UN delegates that something was in the works, LGBT activists and sympathetic UN member states appear reluctant to offer resolutions advancing LGBT rights. Insiders say it is likely they do not have the votes since such proposals are generally met with vigorous opposition from UN member states.
A recent episode illustrates this resistance. In October, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke to the committee on social, humanitarian and cultural affairs. Her statement mentioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as an area that continues to draw the attention of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). When the floor was opened for comments, delegates voiced their concerns.
The delegate from the United Arab Emirates, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), stated that the OIC was the voice of 2 billion Muslims worldwide and objected to the OHCRH’s concern “with certain persons on the grounds of their sexual interests and behaviors.” These are “undefined notions that have no legal foundation in any human rights instrument.”
He described the use of orientation as “ominous” because it “spans a wide range of personal choices that expand way beyond the individual’s sexual interest.”
Several member states asked the High Commissioner to concentrate OHCHR efforts on more tangible and pressing issues of already internationally recognized rights.
No human rights treaty recognizes LGBT rights. Over the last decade resolutions promoting broad LGBT rights have been rejected by UN member states. LGBT rights language has made it into UN documents only indirectly, in resolutions addressing matters such as extrajudicial killings and the death penalty, or through un-negotiated and non-binding statements. Even then, mentions have been sporadic and unsubstantial.
LGBT activists have found alternate routes to promote their agenda. The UN human rights machinery, for example, steadily promotes LGBT rights even though it is not able to create new international human rights obligations. Notably, the Human Rights Committee has told countries to grant same sex couples the same benefits as married heterosexual couples.
Similarly, the Human Rights Council (HRC) has become a forum where LGBT activists promote their agenda. Countries that criminalize LGBT acts or do not recognize same sex unions have been told to change their laws during the Universal Periodic Review process. Several Special Rapporteurs commissioned by the HRC have drawn up reports recognizing LGBT rights.
In June, the HRC adopted a resolution requesting a study by the OHCHR on discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity. This has been hailed as a breakthrough, a stepping stone to creating international legal obligations. While falling short of establishing LGBT rights, it recognizes the LGBT category. The report is expected in December.
While the current General Assembly session has witnessed relative silence on LGBT rights, this may be the calm before the storm.