NEW YORK – For the first time in its history, the United Nations has officially supported the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. On Friday, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution, sponsored by South Africa, which condemns anti-gay discrimination and encourages UN member states to take measures to ensure that gay citizens are protected from harassment and violence. It passed the Council vote by a narrow margin, with 23 votes in favor, 19 opposed, and three abstentions.
“The Human Rights Council has taken a first bold step into territory previously considered off-limits," said Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program of Human Rights Watch. “We hope this groundbreaking step will spur greater efforts to address the horrible abuses perpetrated on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The United States State Department also applauded the resolution’s passage, calling for an increased global awareness of the challenges faced by millions around the world on account of their sexual orientation. “You just witnessed a historic moment at the Human Rights Council and within the UN system with a landmark resolution protecting human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people,” said USambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed. “This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love.”
Others within the State Department have suggested that the passage of this resolution has been a top priority for the Barack Obama administration.
For all of this support, gay equality is still met with fierce criticism in some parts of the world. South Africa’s resolution was attacked by many Arab and African nations who do not recognize homosexuality as an acceptable practice.
“We are seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce to the United Nations some notions that have no legal foundation in any international human rights instrument,” said Shafqat Ali Khan, a Pakistani representative of the Organization of Islamic Countries. Some, like Khan, believe that this resolution blurs the line between human rights and human preferences, and accused its supports of using the forum of the Human Rights Council to promote political goals.
South Africa denies these allegations. Jerry Matthews Matjila, who represents South Africa on the Human Rights Council, defended his country’s resolution, saying “[it] does not seek to impose values on other states…It seeks to initiate a dialogue which will contribute to us ending discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The vote on this resolution came on the last day of an eighteen day session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Council will resume operations on Monday, with a sub-committee meeting on the rights of torture victims.