In a defining vote, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution on “Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity”. This resolution – which mandates the appointment of an Independent Expert on the subject – builds upon two previous resolutions, adopted by the UNHRC in 2011 and 2014.
It was called 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.”
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 six abstentions.
The Philippines – shamefully – abstained.
The affirmative vote is also a response to a joint campaign of numerous non-governmental organizations from 151 countries calling on the UNHRC to adopt the resolution and create the SOGI Independent Expert. According to Yahia Zaidi of MantiQitna Network, around 70% of these organizations are from the global south.
“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,” Zaidi said.
LGBT activists from around the globe has been calling this a momentous development.
“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,” said 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.”
“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.
“The timing of the Human Rights Council vote could not be more poignant. Following the heartbreak of the Orlando massacre, the world’s leaders have firmly acknowledged that anti-LGBT violence is a global phenomenon that requires global solutions. The Human Rights Council took a major step forward by establishing an independent expert. For LGBTI people everywhere who have fought so hard for this victory, take strength from this recognition, and let today represent the dawn of a new day,” said Jessica Stern, executive director, OutRight Action International.
ROLE OF THE EXPERT
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.
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.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE PHILIPPINES…
Bahaghari LGBT Organization, a national progressive and anti-imperialist organization of LGBT Filipinos, welcomed the UNHRC resolution instituting an Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, since the said expert “will serve as an international watchdog tasked with identifying the root causes of violence and discrimination against LGBT people and coordinating with governments in providing protection from violence and discrimination.”
For Ivanka Custodio of the Bahaghari LGBT Organization, “this is a step forward for UNHRC, an institution with the mandate to work on the protection and promotion of human rights all over the world” since now there is “recognition that LGBT people need to be protected from violence and discrimination.”
Custodio was not surprised that the Philippine government — still under the Aquino administration — “chose to remain complicit in the violence and discrimination against LGBT Filipinos to the end when it voted ‘ABSTAIN’. It chose to remain silent despite the fact that many LGBT Filipinos continue to face discrimination in employment, education and social services, and are subject to an intensifying violence perpetrated by the police, families, communities and other members of the society.”
“Bahaghari LGBT Organization thus challenges the newly-installed Duterte presidency to do better than its predecessor and fulfill its promise of bringing about change in the lives of the Filipino people, including the LGBT people, by enacting domestic measures that will protect them,” Custodio said.
Bahaghari LGBT Organization also cautions the UNHRC “against letting this Special Procedure become a tool for pinkwashing to justify imperialist States’ intervention in the political-economic affairs of other States. We strongly emphasize the universality, inseparability and indivisibility of the rights of LGBT people—that our civil and political rights cannot be extricated from our economic, social and cultural rights. Our rights as LGBT people are not distinct from our rights as sovereign people.”
Meanwhile, for Michael David C. Tan, publishing editor of Outrage Magazine, the only exclusively LGBT publication in the Philippines, “all efforts to advance the human rights of LGBT people matter. As such, this matters a lot,” he said. “BUT an effort like this has to be felt at the grassroots, otherwise it defeats the very purpose of its existence. And so we celebrate this development, and then continue doing the hard work, even as we also wait with bated breath for this to be felt by those at the fringes of society, particularly those at the fringes even of the LGBT community.”
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