The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has spoken out in defence of the UN Human Rights Council’s investigation into human rights issues related to discrimination and persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
During a debate on the first report by the new UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), director of advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey put on record the IHEU’s full support for his work.
The Independent Expert on SOGI was a position created only last year after a joint campaign of a record 628 nongovernmental organizations from 151 countries called for a mandate to be established. It faced much opposition at the time.
The stated purpose of the mandate is “to assess the implementation of existing international human rights instruments with regard to ways to overcome violence and discrimination against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to identify and address the root causes of violence and discrimination.”
Human Rights expert and professor of law, Vitit Muntarbhorn, was appointed as the first Independent Expert on SOGI in September 2016 at the UN General Assembly.
At the time of his appointment, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) tried to unsuccessfully sabotage the mandate and has since refused to engage with the special procedure or Professor Muntarbhorn himself. During the debate on his first report last week, the OIC representative declared a boycott by all its members state representatives – apart from Albania.
In a brief statement, a Pakistani representative, Mr. Bilal Akram Shah said, that his “statement must not be considered as any form of engagement,” emphasising that the mandate constituted an “introduction and imposition of controversial notions outside the internationally agreed legal framework.”
The OIC has a declaration on the issue, which says, “We believe that the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity […] are controversial in nature [and] have the potentials of being a divisive factor among members of the international community. Hence, the imposition of these notions in resolutions will go directly against global human rights values.”
Speaking on behalf of the IHEU, in a statement supported by Muslims for Progressive Values, O’Casey called out the OIC for its rejection of the mandate and for not recognising abuses occurring specifically on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity as genuine human rights issues with which the international system should be concerned.
She commented, “We are sure these “notions” won’t be much of an “introduction” or “imposition” to those of the 1.5 billion Muslims, the OIC claims to speak for, who identify on the LGBTI spectrum.”
O’Casey also pointed out that developments in human rights standards cannot be reliant only on the democratic consensus of the Human Rights Council. She said, “the validity and universalism of human rights cannot be at the whim of democratic consensus. This Council is about protecting the rights of all people regardless of how they happen to identify or whom they happen to love; and that is why we need this mandate.”
Anti-choice Christian NGO, ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) International also rejected the mandate during the debate at the Council in Geneva, questioning the need for a UN expert concentrating exclusively on LGBTI based violence and discrimination.
At a separate event with Professor Muntarbhorn in the UN, a number of LGBTI activists from different countries reaffirmed the worth of having this new UN mandate. One said, “the establishment of this mandate is a new chapter for us in the human rights space. It’s like coming out of the shadows within the UN system… having a person with a mandate to talk about our issues. It is a big tool of empowerment for activists who know now who to reach out to.”
O’Casey’s statement follows in full below:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
UN Human Rights Council, 35th Session (6th June – 23rd June 2017)
General Debate on Item 3
This statement is supported by Muslims for Progressive Values.
During the Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), one NGO questioned the validity of his mandate [as one that focuses solely on human rights issues relating to SOGI.]
We could respond to this by citing the countless cases of violence and discrimination against people because of their – actual or perceived – sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes the recent case in Chechnya where over 100 men were detained and tortured; men targeted not because they were a certain colour or religion but because they were gay or thought to be gay.
But perhaps a more pertinent response would be to point to the OIC boycott of the debate itself, due to the mandate’s “introduction and imposition of controversial notions outside the internationally agreed legal framework.” We are sure these “notions” won’t be much of an “introduction” or “imposition” to those of the 1.5 billion Muslims, the OIC claims to speak for, who identify on the LGBTI spectrum.
The OIC representative called on the Council to “respect relevant matters associated with historical, cultural, social and religious sensitivities” and rejected the “divisive” nature of the mandate.
Mr President, there was a time when “notions” such as women having equal rights to men, or black people being equal to white, would have been divisive. It is no longer the case, thanks to universalist reason and argument, thanks to progress of thought and ideals.
This council is not just about agreement; the validity and universalism of human rights cannot be at the whim of democratic consensus. This Council is about protecting the rights of all people regardless of how they happen to identify or whom they happen to love; and that is why we need this mandate.
The IHEU wants to put on record its full support for Professor Muntarbhorn’s work.