Following yesterday's U.N. General Assembly vote to recognize and condemn killings based on sexual orientation -- a reference that had been stripped in an earlier vote and was subsequently championed by, among others, the United States -- White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement praising the 93-55 vote and reaffirming that "killing people because they are gay is not culturally defensible -- it is criminal."
This General Assembly vote marked a sharp and much-welcome shift from the 79-70 vote that had removed "sexual orientation" just over a month ago. Until then, official recognition of the problem of violence motivated by a person's sexual orientation had been a consistent part of similar resolutions for the past decade. After the language was stripped, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice used her remarks at a December 10 United Nations event marking Human Rights Day to state that she was "incensed" that the text on sexual orientation had been dropped in the committee vote and announced the United States' intention to restore the reference in the plenary session. At the same Human Rights Day event, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon similarly expressed his view that human rights abuses based on extend to sexual orientation and gender identity must be addressed. He stated that:
When individuals are attacked [or] abused... because of their sexual orientation, we must speak out... It is not called the 'Partial' Declaration of Human Rights. It is not the 'Sometimes' Declaration of Human Rights. It is the Universal Declaration, guaranteeing all human beings their basic human rights, without exception.
Though the effort to restore this protection was initiated by the United States, it was supported by a broad coalition that included the European Union and a number of countries in South America. One particularly welcome shift came from South Africa, whose U.N. representative referenced South Africa's own constitutional protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation as grounds for its support for the amendment. The intense advocacy in advance of the General Assembly vote to restore the sexual orientation language was supported by rights groups around the world, including Human Rights First, an organization that has long advocated at the U.N. and other international forums that that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals are human rights.
The resolution adopted yesterday brings international attention to some of the most serious human rights violations -- those resulting in loss of life. The resolution does not call for a higher degree of protection for gays, but for an equal standard of protection. It also calls out situations where particular vigilance is required and affirms that gay rights are human rights, a view that dozens of governments -- often where the worst abuses are occurring -- continue to reject.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions has long reported on abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Some examples include:
- Imposition of the death penalty for consensual same-sex conduct;
- Individuals tortured to death by state agents because they are assumed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender;
- Death in custody of individuals as a result of abuse, beatings and subsequent denial of medical treatment because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity;
- Unlawful killings of assumed homosexuals by paramilitary groups as part of "social cleansing" campaigns;
- Persons murdered with impunity by police officers because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity;
- Failure to adequately investigate hate crimes and killings of persons assumed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.