At UN, African and Islamic States Reject Western-Led LGBT Human Rights Push

By Patrick Goodenough | November 8, 2016 | 4:28am EST
The U.N. General Assembly's third committee meets in New York. (Screenshot: U.N. Webcast)

( – In a move that some warn could set a dangerous precedent for the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, a group of countries will try to use a vote in New York Tuesday to reverse an earlier decision, which they were unable to defeat at the Geneva-based HRC.

The issue at stake: a council decision last June to create the U.N.’s first independent expert focused on “violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

A group led by African and Islamic states tried to prevent that from happening, and the vote result illustrated how divisive the issue is – the resolution passed in the 47-member HRC by 23 votes to 18, with six abstentions.

The votes in favor all came from European and Latin American countries, plus three Asian nations – Mongolia, South Korea and Vietnam.

The no votes came from African and Islamic nations, joined by Russia and China.

Five months later, the opponents are trying again, this time in New York, where the U.N. General Assembly’s third committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues, is considering the annual report of the HRC.

The bid is being led by African states. Speaking on their behalf, Botswana ambassador Charles Ntwaagae said Monday African countries were concerned about attempts to introduce “new notions” that do not have universal support.

Countries should stop giving priority to the rights of certain individuals, which could result in negative discrimination at the expense of other internationally agreed rights, he said.

Ntwaagae argued that sexual orientation and gender identity issues fall within countries’ domestic jurisdiction, and the HRC should not delve into such matters.

As a result, the African group put forward a draft resolution that defers the June HRC decision to appoint an independent expert. The committee is expected to vote on the measure on Tuesday.

In a bid to head off the move, the Latin American and Caribbean group plans to offer an amendment to the African text.

U.S. representative Stefanie Amadeo urged the committee on Monday to support the Latin American amendment, but that if it failed, then to vote against the African resolution.

The U.S. is not currently a member of the HRC – it will return in 2017 after a mandatory one-year break – but was strongly supportive of the HRC resolution in June.

The State Department afterwards hailed what it called a “decisive and historic step.”

It said the independent expert mandate would “create a focal point to monitor the situation of LGBT persons globally and provide technical assistance and best practices for countries to improve the human rights situation of members of the LGBT community.”

At Monday’s meeting in New York the president of the HRC, Choi Kyong-lim of South Korea, urged member-states to “think twice” before reopening and reversing an HRC decision, warning it could set a dangerous precedent if the U.N.’s highest human rights body made decisions, only to have them thrown out by the General Assembly in New York.

The General Assembly has conferred autonomy on the HRC, he noted, and it was crucial that that autonomy was upheld.

A number of other delegates also raised concerns about the risk of reopening resolutions that had already been debated and adopted by the HRC in Geneva.

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), as of June 2016, 73 countries around the world criminalize same-sex sexual acts.

Thirty-seven of those 73 countries are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the bloc of mostly Muslim-majority countries.

Punishments for convicted offenders range significantly, but in parts or all of 13 countries, the death penalty can be imposed.

All 13 are Islamic:  Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, the UAE, the northern states of Nigeria, parts of southern Somalia, and areas of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).

The 36 non-Muslim countries where same-sex behavior is prohibited or restricted in law are mostly conservative countries in Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean.

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