Monday, February 27, 2012

Walking Out on Human Rights

In ten days from now the United Nations will set aside thee hours to discuss the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.

With so much in the western news on LGBT rights at the moment, it’s worth noting what this panel could have been about.  "Same-sex marriage", perhaps - a topic fought over in a few jurisdictions around the world, with recent developments in the United States and Brazil.  But it's not.  "Granting partnership rights to same sex couples", maybe - after all, it's a somewhat less controversial topic actively considered in many other regions.  But it isn't.

No.  This is a panel discussion on the application of human rights law to address incidents of violence, discriminatory laws and discriminatory practices against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity  - looking at things such as the criminality of homosexuality and violence carried out on LGBT people.  People like the gay girl in Cape Town who was "correctively" raped by men in her community.  Or like the two men in Iran sentenced to death simply for being with the person they love.  Basic human rights.  Fundamental human rights.  Rights to a private life.  To bodily integrity.  To life itself.

This panel has not been forced on the countries of the developing world by the "west".  The Panel is sponsored by Brazil and South Africa with the strong support of many other countries, including Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and Uruguay.  55% of countries voting – and from all continents - voted in favour of the panel.

Nor is the panel composed of fringe progressives.  It will include a message from UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, a presentation UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and other respected human rights experts from Pakistan, Brazil, the United States and Sweden.

Despite the basic, impeachable level at which this panel operates, as it starts its discussion on Wednesday 7th March 2012, it is expected that up to half of the countries present will walk out of the room in protest.

They will argue that their culture is different.  They will say that their values are incompatible with this discussion.  They will point out that the world contains diverse views.

To some extent they will be right.

Cultures are different.  Values do vary.  People do hold different views.

But no matter how different we are, we should not forget what unites us.  We are all human beings, and all human beings have human rights.

In 1948, 48 governments of the world came together and declared that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.  Signed opposite the Eiffel Tower in the Palais de Chaillot in Paris - the city where the principles of liberty, equality and brotherhood first took hold - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become the foundation on which we, the world's people in all our diversity, work to build communities that are fair and respectful of all.

As the Human Rights Council works to improve the protection of these fundamental principles of humanity, let's remember that LGBT rights are human rights.

Zoliswa Nkonyana, the girl from Cape Town, has a human right to live free from the fear of violation.  Thankfully South Africa has taken action to see that it is addressed.  Hamzeh Chavi and Loghman Hamzehpour, the two young men from Sardasht in Iran who fell in love, had human rights to live a private life and not have their lives taken from them.  The Iranian government, far from remedying the situation continues to enforce its laws against gays and lesbians.

There will be times to talk about same sex marriages and protection for domestic partners.  Those debates are happening already in many places around the world.  Many more will join soon, but others are nowhere near to having those discussions.  Let's talk about the absolute basics - the fundamentals - in the meantime.

Countries will stand up and walk out of the council chamber on 7th March, and they will be walking away from the basic principles of humanity.

I hope they stay.  I hope they listen.  And I hope, whatever happens, that maybe this discussion will be the start of change.

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