Kelly Sans Culotte


At UN, queer human rights genie is out
And no amount of Vatican, Islamic pressure can put it back in.
By Juan Pérez Cabral

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MAY 2, 2003. Activist groups and Brazilian diplomats were busy all week assessing the fallout from last Friday's vote at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Caving in to Islamic and Vatican pressure, the Commission postponed until 2004 discussion of a landmark "Human Rights and Sexual Orientation" resolution introduced by Brazil.

Overall, the launching of the resolution was viewed not as a defeat, but as a historical turning point. The sexual orientation genie is now out of the bottle at the UN, and no one can put it back in.

A Victory
"We all view it as quite a victory," said Katherine McDonald, executive director of Action Canada for Population and Development, which has been following the issue closely. "This will be a hot topic this coming year for non-governmental organizations... It's a very exciting time," she said, adding: "The time has come for the UN to take up sexual orientation... It's the last frontier in the human rights discourse."

Calling it "a great victory," Brazilian delegate Frederico S. Duque Estrada Meyer said in Geneva that now "the issue of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is on the table and has to be discussed ."

The Brazilian resolution "has not only led to worldwide discussion and increased awareness on this issue at the governmental level, but also to an enormous mobilisation of civil society to be built on in the years to come," said Jan Doerfel, director of the Geneva-based International Research Centre on Social Minorities. However, he cautioned, "a lot remains to be done."

Morris Tidball-Binz, acting director of the International Service for Human Rights, also in Geneva, said that "supporters have much work to do worldwide, at country level and at the UN, campaigning (media, public, etc.) and lobbying (UN officials, diplomats and Foreign Ministries)."

In addition, he said, "relatively very few international human rights organizations have prioritized the issue in their agendas so far and this needs to change."

A Three-Ring Circus
Muslim countries headed by Pakistan turned the closing meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva last Friday into a three-ring procedural circus, complete with frivolous points of order and spurious amendments.

Their goal: to run the clock out on the first resolution in the history of the UN that specifically recognized that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people everywhere are human beings with human rights.

Aided at every turn by the Commission's chairwoman, this year from Libya, and abetted by African allies, Latin American countries cowed by the Vatican and a fence-sitting United States, the Islamic Conference block got what they wanted.

Prodded by the chairwoman, the Commission voted late last Friday to postpone until 2004 discussion of the landmark resolution "Human Rights and Sexual Orientation" presented by Brazil, and supported by Canada and European countries. A Canadian plea to prolong the session an extra two days to discuss "this important issue" was ignored.

Keeping Tabs
The vote to postpone was 24 to 17, with 10 abstentions.

In favor of dumping the resolution until 2004 were Muslim countries, other African countries, China, India and a lone Latin American nation, Argentina.

Against were Brazil, Canada, Australia and all European countries, except Ireland, where the Catholic Church still wields much political clout.

Abstaining were the United States, most Latin American nations, and Ireland, among others.

Five phoney amendments that stalled and ultimately blocked the resolution this year will also be back in 2004. And they may not be the only ones. "We'll introduce 100 amendments if needed" to defeat the resolution, Pakistan's ambassador Shaukat Umer thundered earlier last week.

Introduced by Egypt, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the five amendments gutted the Brazilian text by removing all mention of sexual orientation, even from the title.

From the Web

International Service for Human Rights
The Guardian: Middle Eastern repression of homosexuals stems from outdated ideas about the role of the state
United Nations: Human Rights
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

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