THE BLOG
11/20/2014 04:49 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

We All Deserve Justice

DIBYANGSHU SARKAR via Getty Images

You don't have to be a human rights activist to know that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans can get you killed pretty much anywhere.

Tragically, we can cite numerous examples: the 2012 assassination of LGBT activist Erick Alexander Martinez Avila in Honduras; the brutal 2013 murder of Eric Lembembe, an activist and openly gay man in Cameroon; and just weeks ago, the sickening murder of Jennifer Laude, a trans woman in the Philippines.

In addition, there are the countless nameless cases -- the depressing statistics in numerous reports by local and international human rights groups, as well as the United Nations.

Commonly, those responsible for the violence are rarely brought to justice. Prosecutions occur only (when they do) after long and sustained pressure by LGBT activists who are putting their own lives and liberty at risk in this cause.

Yesterday, the United Nations sought to remedy this situation.

The U.N. General Assembly's main committee dealing with human rights adopted an updated version of a biannual resolution to demand justice for all killings based on discriminatory grounds, including murders motivated by a person's real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Only one country voted against the resolution--the Pacific island of Kiribati, although its no vote was later sought changed to "abstain." The 2012 version of the resolution had had 35 cosponsoring countries--this year, it had almost twice as many, at 63.

The vote reflects an evolution in thinking that has become a broad consensus among the world's nations: No one should be killed because of who they are, and murders and extrajudicial killings should be promptly and independently investigated.

This view alone, though, misses an important nuance of the process around the resolution's adoption.

During the negotiations over the resolution, a group of countries led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia proposed to eliminate language referring to the groups of people who, research shows, are most at risk of being killed.

The text these countries wanted to delete made reference to those subject to racially motivated violence; persons belonging to national or ethnic; religious and linguistic minorities or those targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; persons affected by terrorism or hostage-taking or those living under foreign occupation; refugees; internally displaced persons; migrants; street children; members of indigenous communities; human rights defenders; lawyers; journalists; demonstrators; and those targeted for reasons related to "honor."

On the surface, it might seem reasonable to eliminate specificity in a resolution dealing with extrajudicial killings writ large. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others, argued that getting rid of the specific groups in the text would open it up for a broader interpretation.

Experience shows otherwise. At IGLHRC we know full well that unless people targeted for violence because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity are explicitly included in protection efforts, they will be left out.

This is for example clear in a new publication by IGLHRC and its partners, MADRE and the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. The publication, When Coming Out is a Death Sentence, exposes grave human rights violations and brutal violence against LGBT Iraqis, where killings based on sexual orientation and gender identity go unpunished. Last June, for example, two adolescent boys thought to be gay were killed and beheaded in Baghdad, their heads tossed in the garbage. No one has been prosecuted.

Justice is often equally elusive for the other categories mentioned in the resolution adopted yesterday at the U.N. Therefore, last week, 30 human rights organizations joined together to protest elimination of the specific language, sending a direct plea to all U.N. member states to protect the right to life for all through voting against the proposal from Egypt and others.

Fortunately, the plea was heard, and the proposal to eliminate targeted protections was rejected by an 82-53 vote.

Importantly, the real target of the proposal was not the list as such, but rather just one subgroup within it: individuals killed because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This became very apparent in the debate preceding the vote on the resolution and the proposed change, in which a small handful of countries desperately attempted justifying why they would eliminate protections for human rights defenders and those under foreign occupation just to avoid extending those same protections for LGBT populations.

Let us be clear. What Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the 51 other countries who voted to exclude vulnerable groups from the resolution were saying, is that some people don't deserve justice. Those people include Erick Martinez, Eric Lembembe, Jennifer Laude, and countless other LGBT persons and activists killed because of who they are.

The U.N. resolution sends a signal across the world: no matter who we are, who we love, or where we live, we deserve justice.