Human Rights Council Holds a Panel on Sexual Orientation

On March 7th, 2012 at Palais des Nations, the Human Rights Council held a “historic” panel on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  The panel commenced with an impassioned call to action via video message by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon for members of the Human Rights Council to respond to “disturbing” patterns of violence and discrimination committed against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which set the tone for the discussion, reminding people that “lives are at stake.” 

High Commissioner Ms. Navy Pillay expanded upon his remarks and said that though she was conscious of divergent views within the Council on this sensitive topic, she was certain that no party would be acquiescent to “serious, systemic violations of human rights” committed against these persons.  Her report described the violence directed towards persons suffering discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity – such as murder, rape, torture and arbitrary detention and arrest – and provisions for asylum for those fleeing persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.  Based on two decades worth of jurisprudence and documented materials from UN bodies and other Civil Society organizations, Ms. Pillay’s report affirms a “clear pattern of targeted violence and discrimination” that takes place in all regions against those who are or perceived to be LGBT.  Even with a gap in official statistics due to factors such as lack of appropriate training of law enforcement and victims being reluctant to report crimes due to distrust of law enforcement, she affirmed the statistics we do have confirm a high level of violence committed against these people. Of grave concern were discriminatory laws in seventy-six countries that criminalize individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity, an “anachronism of colonial rule” that Ms. Pillay asserted is a breach of international law, violating rights to privacy and freedom of expression.  Ms. Pillay concluded by affirming that “bigotry is no match for the power of education” and “as people talk to each other, they will overcome their discomfort,” stating that the story of the UN is in fact “a story of progress against discrimination.”  Finally, several other panelists and Member States highlighted that this panel was advocating not for new rights but for already-established rights to be fully implemented for all persons “without distinction of any kind.”