On Sunday, December 10, 2006, we will observe International Human Rights Day under the theme “Fighting poverty: a matter of obligation, not charity.” Poverty and human rights are inextricably linked. People whose rights are denied -- victims of discrimination or persecution, for example -- are more likely to be poor. And poverty is often characterized by factors like discrimination and social and cultural stigmatization. These factors are the epitome of the denial of human rights and human dignity, especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons.
Notwithstanding that these human rights violations against LGBT persons persist, even more so if they are poor, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) welcomes the landmark statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, delivered on Friday, December 1, 2006 at the United Nations Human Rights Council by Norway on behalf of 54 states as the dawning of a new era in human rights for LGBT persons. (see http://sasod.blogspot.com/2006/12/norway-unhrc-statement.html) More than 460 NGOs, including SASOD, from 69 countries, had joined together to commend Norway for its leadership and to support the statement.
The statement condemns human rights violations directed against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, commends the work of the UN mechanisms and civil society in this area, calls on UN Special Procedures and treaty bodies to address these issues, and urges the Human Rights Council to pay due attention to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including consideration at an upcoming session.
Earlier this year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour in a keynote speech to an International Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights noted that “violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons is frequently unreported, undocumented and goes ultimately unpunished. … This shameful silence is the ultimate rejection of the fundamental principle of universality of rights. … Excluding LGBT individuals from these protections clearly violates international human rights law as well as the common standards of humanity that define us all.”
Similarly, Secretary General Kofi Annan has acknowledged that “discrimination on the basis of … sexual orientation … is all too common” and, speaking at a gathering of lesbian and gay UN employees, affirmed that “the United Nations cannot condone any persecution of, or discrimination against, people on any grounds.”
At a time when the Human Rights Council is seeking to enhance cooperation across regions and UN mechanisms on matters of basic human rights, it is encouraging that increasingly states, Special Procedures, treaty bodies, civil society, the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights are joining together to ensure that human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity receive the international scrutiny and condemnation they require.
Meanwhile, in Guyana, the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), the only established rights-based, constitutional body, with a mandate to “encourage and create respect for religious, cultural and other forms of diversity in a plural society” under Article 212D paragraph (f) of the Constitution, has recently declined, after almost a year, a request to intervene in the propagation at state-owned venues of musical lyrics which incite hatred and violence against homosexuals. What is most alarming about the ERC’s refusal is that it has reached a decision in writing without a hearing on the request that based on “legal advice” that it is to deal with issues specifically on ethnicity. One would have thought the ERC’s attorney would advise that the persons making the request have a right to be heard as to why sexuality is one of the “…other forms if diversity in a plural society” under Article 212D paragraph (f) and therefore within its mandate. SASOD is seriously concerned at the ERC’s blatant prejudice and intends to seek higher redress for this wanton disregard for natural justice and flagrant violation of human rights.