The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has promised to lead a global campaign for LGBT rights.
And he has told governments around the world that they have a ‘legal duty’ to protect gay and trans people and that ‘culture, tradition or religion’ could not be used as an excuse for failing to do so.
His comments in a video message to the Oslo Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity yesterday (15 April) were not his first remarks on sexual orientation or gender identity – but were the strongest-worded.
The head of the UN has previously called the criminalization of homosexuality ‘an outrage’ inherited from ‘former colonial powers’, saying the laws ‘must go’.
Some of the same language is reflected in his address to the Oslo delegates.
But perhaps even more significant was the fact Ban told LGBT people ‘I am with you’ and added he was committed to leading a global campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights through the UN.
His comments in full were: ‘We should all be outraged when people suffer discrimination, assault and even murder, simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. We should all speak out when someone is arrested and imprisoned because of who they love or how they look.
‘This is one of the great, neglected human rights challenges of our time. We must right these wrongs.
‘Governments have a legal duty to protect everyone but far too many still refuse to acknowledge the injustice of homophobic violence and discrimination.
‘We need to document this problem and share information with the states on a regular basis for discussion and action.
‘We must institutionalize our efforts to address a discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We need public education to change popular attitudes.
‘Some will oppose change. They may invoke culture, tradition or religion to defend the status quo. Such arguments have been used to try to justify slavery, child marriage, rape in marriage and female genital mutilation. I respect culture, tradition and religion – but they can never justify the denial of basic rights.
‘My promise to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the human family is this: I am with you. I promise that as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I will denounce attacks against you, and I will keep pressing leaders for progress.
‘I am committed to leading a global campaign in partnership with the United Nations Human Rights Office. I count on others to join us. Together we can make the world safer, freer and more equal for everyone.’
The conference is jointly sponsored by Norway and South Africa and is one in a seriescheduled to take place in France, Brazil and Nepal in March and April, and another is planned for Africa.
The aim is to assess LGBT human rights in each region and work out how to tackle the issues.