UN expert confirms compatibility of LGBTI+ rights and FoRB, and highlights abuses in name of religion

  • post Type / Advocacy News
  • Date / 23 June 2023

In his latest and last report, the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) has confirmed that the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is fully compatible with the right to be free from violence and discrimination based on SOGI, under international human rights law.

The report (A/HRC/53/37) by the Independent Expert, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, on “Freedom of religion or belief, and freedom from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity” was presented during an interactive dialogue at the 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The UN Independent Expert on SOGI, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, presents his report to the Human Rights Council

In the report, Madrigal-Borloz highlighted trends of State and non-State actors invoking religion in order to perpetrate violence and discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. He also covered the ways in which conscience claims are used to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and deny services, as well as highlighting the pushback on LGBTI+ rights on the grounds of protecting religion, tradition and the family.

In his presentation to the Council, Madrigal-Borloz underscored that the right to FoRB cannot be used as an excuse for violence or discriminatory denial of the human rights of LGBTI+ people. “Violent and discriminatory positions of prejudice are beyond the international legal protections of religious or other beliefs,” he said.

His report noted that Humanism, an organized belief system protected under FoRB, is compatible with the equality of all persons regardless of SOGI. It also shared cases of good practice of religious organizations playing an important role in supporting LGBTI+ rights.

In January this year, Humanists International’s Director of Advocacy made a written submission in response to a call for inputs by the Independent Expert to help inform his report. The submission emphasized that the right to FoRB and the right to be free from violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity are inherently compatible, mutually reinforcing, and grounded in the same principle of dignity, but there unfortunately also exists a widespread and often institutionalized misrepresentation and instrumentalization of FoRB to undermine the rights of LGBTI+ people.

The submission covered the legal background on conscience claims and religious exemption claims, and highlighted the often negative impacts of their unregulated use. It also showed in practice the multiple ways religion, and related terms such as traditional, national, and family values are being instrumentalized to call for a “rebalancing of human rights” in order to delegitimize LGBTI+ people as rights holders altogether, and deny equality and the right to non-discrimination to them.

It said,

“In many countries there is the tendency to tie national and cultural values with religious values and make them indistinguishable. This not only undermines the promotion of FoRB for all by restricting the possibility of individuals identifying with other religions or beliefs and imposing a homogenous and static majority view, but it also often means that those human rights standards and values that stray from this one interpretation of religion, such as LGBT+ equality or recognition, are undermined or trampled upon.”

O’Casey also made a statement during the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert, in which she reiterated parts of the written submission.

This was Victor Madrigal-Borloz’s final Human Rights Council report since his mandate is due to expire. He has held the position of Independent Expert since he was appointed in 2018.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Africa Group continue to boycott the presentations of the Independent Expert on SOGI both in the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly since the mandate’s creation in 2016.

Featured photo by Anete Lusina

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