The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban-Ki Moon, said the fact that 76 countries in the world still criminalize homosexuality is 'an outrage'.
In a historic statement made yesterday at the UN headquarters in New York, Ban said:
'It is an outrage that in our modern world, so many countries continue to criminalize people simply for loving another human being of the same sex.'
The Korean head of the UN added, 'in most cases, these laws are not home-grown. They were inherited from former colonial powers... These laws must go.'
In his speech Ban said that the UN leads by example and he has reiterated to all senior managers in the organization that has offices all over the world that 'discrimination against staff on the basis of sexual orientation will not be tolerated'.
Ban singled out countries such as Ukraine where laws have been proposed that would criminalize public discussion of homosexuality. 'Potentially making meetings such as this one illegal,' said Ban. 'I deplore these kinds of measures wherever they are introduced. They threaten basic rights, feed stigma and lead to more abuse.'
Malawi, where anti-gay laws were repealed and then reintroduced earlier this year, was also discussed. 'Now, under the new leadership of Her Excellency President Joyce Banda, Malawi is weighing possible changes in the law,' said Ban. 'I hope Malawians take the opportunity to turn a page.'
Ban addressed all national leaders who point to unsympathetic public opinion as a reason not to change anti-gay laws.
'I understand it can be difficult to stand up to public opinion,' said the Secretary-General. 'But, just because a majority might disapprove of certain individuals does not entitle the State to withhold their basic rights.
'Democracy is more than majority rule. It requires defending vulnerable minorities from hostile majorities. It thrives on diversity. Governments have a duty to fight prejudice, not fuel it.'
Ban was joined by Puerto Rican popstar Ricky Martin, South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Archbishop Desmond Tutu made a video address from South Africa.