The shared struggle of ending violence and discrimination
By Marta Maurás, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Chile at the United Nations in Geneva
The new UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, opened this 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council with significant words: ‘There is no justification ever, for the degrading, the debasing or the exploitation of other human beings – on whatever basis: nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or caste’. It is worth repeating that universality, equality and non-discrimination are the founding principles of international human rights law. Indeed, this is enshrined in article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’.
Yet, there continue to be disturbing trends of systematic, ongoing and widespread violence and discrimination, notably against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people throughout the world.
The UN Special Procedures and the Treaty Bodies increasingly receive information on cases of violations perpetrated against LGBTI people from many countries. These well-documented cases range from exclusionary laws and policies that perpetuate discrimination – sometimes even proscribing heavy-handed penalties for same-sex relations, including death – to torture and murder. LGBTI people also face stigma which excludes them from their basic economic and social rights, particularly when they face eviction or are denied education or employment due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. As stated by the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, speaking to LGBTI people in his message to the Human Rights Council in March 2012: ‘Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to defend and uphold’.
The Human Rights Council historically adopted resolution 17/19 ‘Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity’ in 2011. States that supported this resolution took a firm stance that the violations faced by LGBTI people are grave and require the serious attention of the apex human rights body.
The rights of LGBTI people are protected by existing international human rights law: they enjoy the same rights as all individuals – no more, no less. This is the principle of universality of human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration.
In the three years that have passed, the situation for LGBTI people has gotten worse in many places around the world. The urgency to ensure their protection remains ever so crucial. Thus Chile, along with its sister countries in Latin America – Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay – issued a joint statement at the Human Rights Council this June, that the continued reluctance of States to adequately address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity ‘would give a wrong message: that the Human Rights Council is unable to ensure protection of vulnerable groups and provide the attention they need and deserve’.
It is with this sense of urgency that Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay have introduced a draft resolution this session to follow-up on efforts made since 2011.
At the Organisation of American States this June, States adopted a 7thresolution on ‘Human Rights, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression’, focusing on ending discrimination and barriers against LGBTI people, as well as condemning the violence they face. Also this year, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted resolution 275 ‘Protection against violence and other human rights violations against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity’.
The sponsors of the draft resolution presented to the Human Rights Council see these processes at the regional level as representing an increased recognition of serious violations of human rights and successful moves towards building consensus on this issue. Countries are progressively moving towards legislation to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That is the case in Chile, which adopted in 2012 an anti-discrimination law called ‘Ley Zamudio’ after the name of a homosexual boy assassinated by radical pro-Nazi individuals.
The violence and discrimination faced by LGBTI people is a global phenomenon that requires a global response. Yet the Human Rights Council is divided on this issue. Clearly this highlights the need for more credible information on the nature and pattern of violations, as well as increased dialogue to enable all States to understand why these are serious human rights concerns and how to better protect all people in specific contexts regardless of their sexual orientation.
The draft resolution calls for a report of the High Commissioner every two years, so that the Council can periodically and incrementally build its understanding on how to address the issue. Those many victims of brutal attacks, of exclusion and of stigma deserve our sustained attention. It is not a matter of creating new categories of human rights. Nothing can justify such violations, and none of us can ignore our obligation to prevent and address such violations, no matter what our cultural, traditional or religious values might be.
Marta Maurás is Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Chile at the United Nations, other International Organizations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva
For more information on this issue, contact ISHR’s Pooja Patel on