An unprecedented meeting of government ministers on September 26, 2013 called for urgent action to end the scourge of violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The meeting of officials from close to a dozen countries was the first in which so many have come together to discuss LGBT rights issues at the United Nations.
“Today’s meeting of ministers from around the globe shows a landmark commitment to end persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The challenge now for both the United Nations and the individual countries will be to turn that commitment into action.”
The ministers endorsed a declaration committing their governments to work together and with others to combat what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called “one of the great, neglected human rights challenges of our time.” The declaration urged governments to repeal discriminatory laws, improve responses to hate-motivated violence, and ensure adequate and appropriate legal protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The ministerial meeting took place in the wake of a landmark 2011 report by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights that showed widespread violence and discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
More than 76 countries criminalize same-sex sexual relations between people who are over the age of consent. In many more countries, discrimination in housing, health care, and employment is commonplace. The report also highlighted the problem of hate-motivated violence, including sexual violence, physical assault, and targeted killings.
The meeting included foreign ministers from Argentina, the Netherlands and Norway, the secretary of state of the United States, the minister of development cooperation of France, high-level representatives from Brazil, Croatia, the European Union, Japan, and New Zealand, and the UN high commissioner for human rights.
“LGBT rights advocates have been accused of imposing moral values on others, but in fact it’s the intolerant governments that are imposing their values,” Roth said. “LGBT people exist everywhere. The only question is whether they can enjoy the same human rights as everyone else, or whether governments impose bigoted views to deny them those rights.”
The meeting was organized by the LGBT Core Group at the UN in New York – a cross-regional group that includes Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, the European Union, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the United States, as well as the UN high commissioner for human rights, and the nongovernmental organizations Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.