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Activists excited about ‘historic’ UN gay rights debate

Activists excited about ‘historic’ UN gay rights debate

Activists around the world are excited about a UN debate on LGBT rights, calling the event a ‘historic development’.

Tomorrow’s panel discussion in Geneva, Switzerland, on discrimination and violence against LGBT people marks the first time the UN Human Rights Council has focused on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Campaigners have applauded the event, which includes panelists from the US, Europe, Brazil and Pakistan.

UN human rights monitors Arc International say the panel represents an important step on the path towards equality.

‘The upcoming panel is a historic development,’ Arc co-director John Fisher told Gay Star News.

‘Human rights defenders from all regions will be engaging in the discussion to urge states to fulfill their responsibilities under international law.’

Global gay rights group Kaleidoscope shares LGBT activists’ excitement about the event.

A spokesman for the group told GSN: ‘If the UN Human Rights Council reaffirms its commitment tomorrow to fighting discrimination and persecution of LGBT people it will send a strong signal to countries still criminalizing homosexuality or planning to introduce similar legislation which aims to limit the freedom of expression and association for LGBT people.’

However, last week, a leaked letter from Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN Zamir Akram, representing the 56 Islamic states in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), revealed opposition to the panel and the concept of gay rights at all.

Nevertheless, Kaleidoscope says it is optimistic that the debate tomorrow will highlight the message that LGBT rights are human rights.

The spokesman said: ‘We believe it is important to remind those opposing the debate that it is the council's mandate to promote universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction.

‘LGBT people deserve the same respect, dignity, rights and protection as everyone else.’ 

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has called Akram’s attempt to block discussion of gay rights as ‘shameful’ and ‘bigoted’.

‘He is living in the dark ages, ignoring scientific understanding and humanitarian ethics,’ he said.

‘His homophobic views are an insult to the estimated nine million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pakistanis. They have human rights too.’

Despite Commonwealth general secretary Kamalesh Sharma condemning homophobia, his message has fallen on deaf ears in many member states in Africa, with countries such as Uganda and Gambia persisting with homophobic laws which see gay men and women imprisoned for their sexuality.

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 African countries, with Mauritania, Sudan, and northern Nigeria allowing for the death penalty.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon last month called on African nations to respect LGBT rights and Kaleidoscope’s Africa representative, Adebisi Alimi, hopes the panel discussion will help further gay rights in the continent.

‘We do not expect a celebration from some African countries who will be having this conversation,’ he told GSN.

‘There will be opposition and I am sure groups from African and Islamic states are working on presentations, but at the same time we are expecting pro-gay LGBT human rights groups to also put forward a very strong case.

‘There is progress happening in some countries because we having this discussion at the UN level. The discussion was not there five years ago and was not there probably four years ago. It’s now 2012 and we are moving forward.’

The debate can be watched live tomorrow (7 March), midday to 3pm central European time, here.