In a move unprecedented in the 66 years since the United Nations was founded, the world body issued a human rights report on the conditions facing LGBT people around the globe.
In a release accompanying the December 15 report, the UN News Centre wrote, “Homophobic and transphobic violence has been recorded in every region of the world, the report finds, and ranges from murder, kidnappings, assaults, and rapes to psychological threats and arbitrary deprivations of liberty.”
The report came out just a week after President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a sweeping new focus on global LGBT rights as part of the administration’s foreign diplomacy efforts.
The report, issued in Geneva by the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), was a response to a June resolution from the world body’s 47-nation Human Rights Council that, for the first time, put the UN on record condemning discrimination and violence against LGBT people. The Council, which approved the resolution on a 23-19 vote, with significant opposition from some African and Islamic countries, directed the OHCHR to carry out the global investigation.
In the report, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner, called on nations to end criminal penalties for homosexual behavior — most urgently, the use of the death penalty in some countries — make age of consent laws consistent regardless of orientation, and enact comprehensive anti-discrimination protections.
According to the UN, Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen still have provisions authorizing capital punishment for homosexual conduct.
Despite the outspoken positions staked out by Obama and Clinton the week before, the US currently has no federal LGBT civil rights protections. The only pending proposals in Congress, in fact, would merely bar workplace discrimination and end the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government’s affirmative discrimination against equal marriage rights.
The UN report noted that “violence against LGBT persons tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes,” often including “a high degree of cruelty and brutality.” Many crimes go unreported because of official hostility toward queer people by law enforcement and government officials.
Bluntly taking on nations that claim an indigenous rejection of homosexuality, Charles Radcliffe, the chief of OHCHR’s global issues section, said, “No religious belief or prevailing cultural values can justify stripping people of their basic rights.”
At the same time, Radcliffe stressed advocacy should aim “to persuade rather than lecture.”
“I think we have seen the balance of opinion amongst states really shifting significantly in recent years,” he told UN Radio. “Some 30 countries have decriminalized homosexuality in the last two decades or so.”
The UN report also pressed Western nations to follow through on their professed advocacy for equal rights. The release noted that Pillay “calls on countries to ensure that no one fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is returned to a territory where their life or freedom is at threat.” In recent years, activists have repeatedly faulted leading democracies for their indifference to specific asylum claims.
The UN Human Rights Council will discuss the new report in March.