GENEVA — The U.N.'s top human rights official urged countries Thursday to abolish legal discrimination against gays, including the death penalty for consensual sex, days after the U.S. government said it would use foreign aid and diplomacy to promote gay equal rights.
The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said governments should also outlaw all forms of abuse based on sexual orientation and set the same age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual activity.
Navi Pillay's appeal came in a report released Thursday to the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, which in June passed the global body's first resolution condemning anti-gay discrimination. That vote was hailed as historic by the United States, European countries and others, but decried by some African and Muslim nations.
"On the basis of the information presented (in this report), a pattern of human rights violations emerges that demands a response," Pillay said.
"Governments and inter-governmental bodies have often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," she said.
The report criticizes the continued existence of death penalty punishment for same-sex relations in at least five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – as well as legislation explicitly criminalizing gays in 76 countries.
Last week, President Barack Obama directed government agencies to make sure U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote gay rights and fight discrimination. At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a speech to diplomats in Geneva, compared the struggle for gay equality to difficult passages toward women's rights and racial equality.
The U.S., and Pillay's report, stopped short of backing gay marriage. But the U.N. report cites human rights experts as saying countries have an obligation to ensure "unmarried same-sex couples are treated in the same way and entitled to the same benefits as unmarried opposite-sex couples."