UNHCR Issues Report Highlighting Violence Based on Sexual Orientation

by Melanie Nathan, Dec 15, 2011

UN  High Commissioner for Human Rights:   “ Repeal laws used to criminalize individuals on grounds of homosexuality for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and harmonize the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual conduct. “

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) today released the first-ever U.N. report documenting discriminatory laws, practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The report gives a sweeping panorama of the status of LGBT rights around the world, and includes an ambitious set of recommendations for U.N. member states to implement.  South Africa was one country that pushed for the report. However while we applaud the report,  before we thank South Africa, we must ask for much more.

This report which was completed on November 17, 2011, heralded the pro-LGBTI  statements this past week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the Geneva and the same-day foreign policy memo of President Barack Obama of the United States of America.

According to AllOUT.Org a campaigning organization on LGBTI issues, Ifeanyi Orazulike, public health advocate and director of the International Center for Advocacy on Right to Health (ICARH) in Abuja, Nigeria, commented on the report stating:

“This report highlights how the majority of our countries still cling to penal codes written under colonial rule – laws that make the lives and loving relationship of LGBT people illegal. And these laws and the prejudicial attitudes that keep them in place don’t just punish LGBT Africans – they make our societies sicker – by undercutting our urgent work to battle the HIV / AIDS pandemic on the continent.”

The report, titled Discriminatory Laws and Practices and Acts of Violence Against Individuals Based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, affirms in unambiguous language that across the world:

People experience violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In many cases, even the perception of homosexuality or transgender identity puts people at risk. Violations include – but are not limited to – killings, rape and physical attacks, torture, arbitrary detention, the denial of rights to assembly, expression and information, and discrimination in employment, health and education. United Nations mechanisms, including human rights treaty bodies and the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, have documented such violations for close to two decades.

The report makes a number of recommendations, among them that UN member States:

  • Investigate promptly all reported killings and other serious incidents of violence perpetrated against individuals because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Ensure that no one fleeing persecution on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is returned to a territory where his or her life or freedom would be threatened.
  • Repeal laws used to criminalize individuals on grounds of homosexuality for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and harmonize the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual conduct.

While some such as ALLOUT.org’s Andre Banks are hailing the South African Government’s leadership I am loathe to do so:

Banks issues this statement today: “Today the United Nations has sent a powerful message to member states around the world, echoing what Hillary Clinton said last week: Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights. This groundbreaking report adds major momentum to the work that LGBT equality advocates are doing worldwide. We applaud the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, and the South African government in particular, for their courage and commitment to this historic civil and human rights struggle.”

The South African Government’s continued contradictions and a number of serious human rights infractions currently perpetuated against its own LGBTI citizens, its failed LGBTI foreign policy in Africa, as well as its cruel treatment of LGBTI asylum seekers from outside from the rest of Africa,  stands in absolute hypocrisy to their so called leadership in the United Nations.

I have asked Andre Banks of ALLOUT.org for his clarification in praising the South African Government and will update this post when he responds.

  • South Africa must recall admitted homophobic envoy Jon Qwelane as its ambassador to Uganda before it can be seen to stand genuinely behind any comments or so called leadership in Africa;
  • South Africa must pursue immediate reforms for victims of so called lesbian “corrective” rape.
  • The South African government must establish a protocol that keeps LGBTI asylum seekers safe, fed and housed in South Africa.
  • The South African government  must effect a strategic educational plan to counteract cultural misgivings about homosexuality, so that South Africans can learn about the science of sexual orientation, in an effort to assist South Africans to live up to their all-inclusive post-apartheid constitution.
  • President Zuma himself must come out and in a specific statement fervently and decry the criminalization of homosexuality.

In the meantime indeed I acknowledge that this report provides an important milestone in the struggle for LGBTI people globally, it is a small kickstart in what ought to be a massive international effort to educate about sexual orientation, decriminalize homosexuality globally and promote equality at every level.
Download the full report HERE.

ALSO CLICK HERE: Please read more about South Africa’s ongoing defense of Jon Qwelane in Uganda

by Melanie Nathan


UPDATED 12/16/2011 –

Response by Andre Banks of ALLOUT.ORG

“”I agree with Melanie Nathan that South Africa still has a ways to go, especially in regards to the major challenges still faced by LGBTI South Africans in country. That said, In one of the most difficult regions in the world for LGBTI people, South African diplomats are going against the grain. The South African government both co-sponsored the first ever UN Human Rights Council resolution on anti-LGBT human rights violations this past June, and also pushed aggressively for the release of this report. The high profile pro-LGBTI foreign policy of the South African government is worthy of praise, and it gives activists in South Africa more leverage – not less – to push for the reasonable set of demands and recommendations that Melanie has detailed.”

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