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The United Nations is doing more each year to push LGBT+ rights

The United Nations is doing more each year to push LGBT+ rights

  • The UN barely mentioned LGBT+ people a decade ago but that is now changing.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The United Nations is pushing member states harder each year on LGBT+ rights – and is starting to make progress.

That’s according to new research by LGBT+ campaign organization ILGA World.

The campaigners have been tracking how UN committees address LGBT+ people’s lives since 2014. Last year they found nine UN Treaty Bodies made 137 references to LGBT+ people in 66 observations and recommendations to 56 member states.

That’s the mechanism by which countries hold each other to account over human rights.

In one example, in November 2018 countries told Sudan to urgently scrap the death penalty for gay sex. And on 9 July this year, Sudan dropped the death penalty and flogging as punishments for ‘sodomy’.

The UN refers to LGBT+ issues as ‘sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC)’.

Kseniya Kirichenko from ILGA World said:

‘One in two UN member states undergoing their periodic review in 2019 received SOGIESC-inclusive concluding observations.

‘The committees are continuing to listen to human rights defenders on the ground, and their recommendations keep guiding states towards better standards of protection.’

The decade when the UN said LGBT+ rights

Just a decade ago, the United Nations rarely mentioned LGBT+ people or our human rights. But things started to change in 2011, when its Human Rights Council passed its first resolution on the issue.

In 2013 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay created a video telling countries they had to protect LGBT+ people. They said:

‘Every nation is obligated by International Human Rights Law to protect all lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people from torture, discrimination and violence.

‘The United Nations has one simple message to the millions of LGBT people around the world. You are not alone. LGBT rights are human rights.’

Moreover, in 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Then, in 2016, the UN appointed its first ‘independent expert’ on LGBT+ rights.

This year the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has told countries they should not use the coronavirus pandemic to undermine LGBT+ rights.

Moreover, the UN says states should be aware that LGBT+ people may be particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis. And that officials should not discriminate against them.

UN making progress but US going the other way

ILGA World’s research shows that ‘SOGIESC’ recommendations to states went up by more than 250% between 2014 and 2019.

Meanwhile last year Treaty Bodies made 18 specific references to trans people’s lives and 20 recommendations about intersex people’s rights.

However, there is still work to be done. ILGA World said:

‘On the other hand, only one recommendation explicitly referred to lesbian women, and none to bisexual people [in 2019].

‘The majority of the references made by Treaty Bodies throughout the year, in fact, did not distinguish between the situation of LB/TI women and the situation of LGBTI populations in general.’

Moreover, there is a new threat to this work too. 

Notably the international treaties the UN is using to promote our rights do not specifically mention LGBT+ people.

Instead, experts have evolved how they see the rights in the treaties over the past two decades.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently trying to undermine this approach. His new Commission on Unalienable Rights argues that religious freedom and property rights are more important than others. And his approach could downgrade LGBT+ and women’s rights.

Meanwhile, in 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the UN Human Rights Council.