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UN: Brazilian Gay, Lesbian Group May Join Debates

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GENEVA — The United Nations granted official status to a gay and lesbian organization from Brazil on Monday, allowing it to participate in U.N. meetings ranging from health to human rights.

The victory for the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transsexuals marks the third consecutive year the U.N. Economic and Social Council has overturned a decision by a 19-country committee blocking gay groups from participating in the global body's debates.

Swedish and Spanish groups were accredited as recognized non-governmental organizations in 2007 and 2008, breaking years of resistance from some governments. At one U.N. debate in 2003, Pakistan's ambassador even suggested use of the term "sexual disorientation."

One of the U.N. council's main powers is granting consultative status to organizations so that they can participate in formal U.N. meetings. More than 3,000 groups already have such rights.

"If the U.N. cannot be open and diverse, then we are really set for failure," said Guilherme Patriota, a senior Brazilian diplomat. "There are another 400 NGOs seeking the same status next year. We need to keep working on making the U.N. more open to plurality and diversity."

Patriota told The Associated Press that the organization was a valuable partner of Brazil's government in AIDS campaigns, condom promotion and other social causes, and questioned why the application was rejected in the first place.

The U.S. also criticized the U.N. committee mandated with recommending which campaign groups should be given a place. U.S. diplomat John Sammis said that body seems to spend more time coming up with ways to exclude qualified civil society groups rather than on work aimed at including them.

The U.N. council also backed a U.S.-based democracy group to participate in meetings, and suspended an Arab human rights group for a year after a complaint from Algeria.

The Democracy Coalition Project says it acts as a caucus of the world's democracies, but nonmembers China, Cuba and Russia argued that it was "engaged in politically motivated activities" against certain governments, according to the U.N. report recommending rejection of the application.

The Arab Commission for Human Rights had its status suspended until 2010 because it allowed a non-registered individual to speak at a U.N. review of Algeria's human rights record.

Algeria said the speaker, Rachid Mesli, is accused of belonging to a terrorist group. But the commission's Geneva representative, Abdel Wahab Hani, said Mesli is a human rights lawyer who was given political asylum in Switzerland after Amnesty International called him a prisoner of conscience in Algeria.

"We're not diplomats. We're not here to hide reality," Hani said. "We're here to say what is happening in the Arab world."

The ban followed the February recommendation by 18 U.N. countries as diverse as Britain, Cuba, Egypt and Israel. The U.S. was the only country to abstain, saying it needed more information about the charges against Mesli to take a position.

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