South Africa and Brazil have told the United Nations they want more action on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
The statement was delivered yesterday (2 July) to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva by the ambassador of South Africa on behalf of both countries.
The statement demanded further discussion and work on the issue of violence against LGBT people and said gay and trans rights are part and parcel of the universal declaration of human rights.
This joint statement is a follow on from the first global panel discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity, known in UN circles as SOGI, which was held in the Human Rights Council on 7 March this year.
The panel discussion was conducted due to a report from the high commissioner from the council that showed the enormity of the situation facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It stated although there are scarce official statistics there is widespread bias in jobs, schools and hospitals. People have suffered sexual assault, been imprisoned, tortured and killed, the commissioner said.
The discussion in March ended in disagreement. Some countries agreed further action was necessary and felt LGBT people were covered by universal standards of human rights. Others, mostly lead by the Organization of Islamic States (OIC), refused to take part and along with some African states, China and Russia, rejected the idea, saying LGBT rights are a ‘cultural notion’.
The OIC further demanded ‘that this will be the last time that the Human Rights Council discusses LGBT rights.’
Since then the matter has not been discussed but the joint statement by South Africa and Brazil yesterday stated this must change: ‘We should not inadvertently undermine the promotion and protection of human rights by remaining silent.’
Their joint declaration makes it clear they will not sit by and accept the OIC and other country’s anti-gay and trans stance.
They said: ‘Discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is no more acceptable than doing so on the basis of race, religion, nationality or other grounds… Nobody should be excluded from the protection of international human rights law.’
The statement also called to find a way ‘to end the violence and discrimination that existed in all regions… In the spirit of ubuntu in Africa, meaning “I am because you are”, all people share a link with one another through their common humanity, which also carries with it a shared responsibility to care for one another. The same principle underpins the concept of universal human rights.’
South Africa and Brazil further called upon all countries not to shy away from dialogue and engage with opposing views stating: ‘Reconciling universal standards of human rights with local ideas of culture is challenging but necessary work.’
The two countries accept there are cultural differences but say fundamental LGBT rights are not negotiable.
Experts point out that the joint statement comes at an important time, as different countries and stakeholders from all regions consider next steps and follow-up initiatives in the wake of the panel last March.
Strong statements were also delivered by Norway, the Council of Europe, and LGBT rights organizations ILGA-Europe, COC Netherlands, ARC and ACPD.