In what the AFP described as "an unusually outspoken declaration," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged leaders at an African Union summit to respect gay rights.
"One form of discrimination ignored or even sanctioned by many states for too long has been discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity," Ban is quoted as saying Sunday in the Ethiopian capital. "It prompted governments to treat people as second-class citizens or even criminals."
He concluded by subtly comparing the global gay rights movement to the Arab Spring: "Events proved that repression is dead. Police power is no match to people power seeking dignity and justice."
Ban's comments are considered especially groundbreaking in Africa, where homosexuality is outlawed in most countries, including key Western allies such as Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Botswana, the BBC reported. Furthermore, discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people remains rampant across most of the continent.
Among those who praised Ban's remarks was Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) advocacy officer Pepe Julian Onziema. "It holds a lot of weight that Ban Ki-moon has come to this meeting and addressed this issue," he told the AFP. "It makes a difference because it is an issue that the African Union has ignored. We have pushed them on it but they have shut us out."
As Pink News pointed out, the U.N. official's declaration echoes similar sentiments he made in 2010. "When individuals are attacked, abused or imprisoned because of their sexual orientation, we must speak out," he said. "These are not merely assaults on individuals. They are attacks on all of us. They devastate families. They pit one group against another, dividing larger society. And when the perpetrators of violence escape without penalty, they make a mockery of the universal values we hold dear."
His statements this year come on the heels of Hillary Clinton's historic LGBT rights speech, which the Secretary of State delivered in Geneva last month.