Source: Swedish Government
Grave human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity were the focus of a panel discussion organised on Human Rights Day 2009 on December 10, co-hosted by the Mission of Sweden to the United Nations in New York together with the missions of Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, the Netherlands and Norway and in collaboration with a coalition of non-governmental organisations defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Moderated by Hans Ytterberg from the Swedish Ministry for Integration and Gender Equality, the panel featured five prominent practitioners on human rights issues relating to LGBT persons in different regions of the world. It was followed by an interaction between the panel and members of the diplomatic community and civil society organisations.
Hans Ytterberg, who has served as Sweden's Ombudsman against Sexual Orientation Discrimination, said the purpose of holding this event in the margins of the UN General Assembly was to follow up on last year's General Assembly, during which a joint statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity was delivered on behalf of 66 states (to which another state was subsequently added bringing the total number of supporting states to 67) and a parallel statement read out on behalf of 58 states also recognising the right not to be subjected to gross human rights violations on any ground whatsoever.
Also acknowledging the contributions made by the Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures within the UN framework, Mr Ytterberg said the joint statement marked “an unusually powerful break with the 'tyranny of silence' traditionally surrounding this issue”. Mr Ytterberg also stressed the universality of the phenomenon of grave violations of the rights of LGBT persons, and the devastating addition of impunity to this lethal cocktail.
Vivek Divan, a human rights lawyer and consultant with the United Nations Development Programme HIV/AIDS Practice, related the sense of joy and liberation he had experienced as an Indian homosexual man in July 2009 when the High Court of Delhi declared unconstitutional a law which criminalised consensual non-procreative sex between adults of the same or opposite sexes. Alongside the core human rights principles of 'dignity', 'equality' and 'inclusiveness', Mr Divan said the court had addressed the issue of 'morality', a ground on which those opposed to the case had argued that the criminal law ought to remain.
In order to understand human sexuality and sexual behaviour and accept its various manifestations in any society, Mr Divan said, there was a need to debunk “prejudicial misgivings” such as “that the social fabric and public morality will be threatened if same sex practices and relationships are in any way recognised [or] that children will be put at risk if this is permitted”, pointing to the fact that such harm had never been shown to have been caused in the case of countries where same sex relationships had been decriminalised or where rights had been bestowed on homosexual persons to exercise their fundamental rights. Rather, he said, criminalisation only served to push homosexual behaviour underground, where it continued to manifest but in ways which were likely to be far more deleterious to individuals and society at large, both in terms of health (and particularly in fuelling an invisible HIV epidemic) and in its impact on social relations.
Victor Mukasa (International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission) and the Reverend Kapaya Kaoma (Public Research Associates) provided examples of grave violations of the human rights of LGBT persons and highlighted the example of countries which currently do not criminalise homosexuality but where efforts are being made to introduce laws to that effect. Rev. Kaoma focused his intervention in particular on the role of religious elements in promoting criminalisation of homosexuality and, in some cases, of promoting hate crimes.
Sass Rogando Sasot, a Filipina woman of transsexual experience and a leading voice of the transgender rights movement in the Philippines, delivered a moving account of the oppression faced by transgender people through the ages and across the globe. She likened current beliefs about gender to those that had led Joan of Arc - a cross-dresser - to be burned at the stake in 15th century France and cited modern-day examples, saying that “the root of our oppression is the belief that there is one and only one way to be male or female.”
Indyra Mendoza Aguilar, coordinator of the Lésbica Feminista Cattrachas network, focused her statement on the issue of impunity, highlighting cases where murders of LGBT persons are not only tolerated but encouraged by State institutions with slogans such as “reaffirm your manhood, kill a transvestite” or “show you're a man, kill a homosexual”.
In conclusion, Mr Ytterberg said that: “The time has come to unequivocally and continually address the tyranny of silence and impunity which for so long have hampered the enjoyment by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons to these the most serious aspects of their human rights. And they are rights, not negotiable concessions.”
The event was organised in collaboration with a coalition of NGOs which included: International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC); Arc International; Human Rights Watch; Global Advocates for Trans Equality (GATE); COC Netherlands; Council for Global Equality; and International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).