Arab and African Country Leaders Walk Out of UN Panel on Gay Rights
Arab and African countries walked out of the chamber following a recorded message addressed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and a word by Navi Pillay, human rights high commissioner.
Ban highlighted in his video that time has come to end violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Human Rights council panel taking place in Geneva is set up to tackle the issue of murder and violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals around the world.
According to diplomats, not all countries in the Islamic and African groups joined the walkout.
“The Secretary-General says he didn’t grow up talking about these issues. The same may be true for a number of us here today. Like the Secretary-General, we are in the process of educating ourselves. But it is time to acknowledge that, while we have been talking of other things, terrible violence and discrimination has been perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.” Said Pillay.
“This Council stood up for the rights of all when, last June, States from all regions joined together to adopt resolution 17/19 expressing “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”” She adds.
Mauritania from the Arab Muslim group said attempts to impose “the controversial topic of sexual orientation” would undermine discussion in the council of other human rights problems.
Pakistan described homosexuality as “licentious behavior” while African group leader Senegal said it was not covered by global human rights accords.
Nigeria – where gay rights groups say there have been many attacks on male and female homosexuals – claimed none of its citizens were at risk of violence because of sexual orientation or gender identity, before it too left the chamber.
Islamic nations and most African countries have long kept discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity out of the council, but a strong drive by the United States and South Africa brought it onto the agenda last June.
Latin American countries like Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay joined in to push through a narrow vote to mandate Wednesday’s panel and the high commissioner’s report.
Pillay, once a South African high court judge, told the session her life under apartheid had taught her that “ignorance and bigotry” could only be overcome by education and frank discussion among people with different views.
The report said 76 countries among the UN’s 192 members had laws criminalising homosexual behaviour. At least five – in particular Iran – implement the death penalty, while efforts are under way in Uganda to introduce the same punishment.
“I know some will resist what we are saying,” said Pillay, who earlier this week was accused by Egypt of promoting homosexuality by pressing on with the report despite the objections of Islamic countries.
In a clear reference to Islamic and African countries, she said some states would argue that homosexuality or bisexuality “conflict with local cultural or traditional values or with religious teachings, or run counter to public opinion”.
She said that they were free to hold their opinions, but: “That is as far as it goes. The balance between tradition and culture, on the one hand, and universal human rights on the other, must be struck in favour of rights.”
“We see a pattern of violence and discrimination directed at people just because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,” Ban said in a video message to the panel, chaired by African group dissenter South Africa.
“This is a monumental tragedy for those affected – and a stain on our collective conscience. It is also a violation of international law. You, as members of the Human Rights Council, must respond,” the UN chief declared.
Adapted from the guardian.