Historic conference on sexual orientation and gender identity raises prospect of a UN mechanism

26.04.2013

An historic conference on sexual orientation and gender identity held in Oslo (from 15-16 April) raised the prospect of the UN creating a dedicated mechanism to address the violations suffered by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.

 

An historic conference on sexual orientation and gender identity held in Oslo (from 15-16 April) raised the prospect of the UN creating a dedicated mechanism to address the violations suffered by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.

The over 200 participants, from 84 countries, representing States, civil society, and the UN, heard testimony from human rights defenders across the globe about the violations including killings, violence, discrimination perpetrated simply on the basis of how they and others express their gender identity, or what their perceived sexual orientation is.

Jointly Chaired by South Africa and Norway, the conference also marked the culmination of a series of consultations, held in Banjul, Brasilia, Kathmandu, and Paris, aimed at better understanding the challenges faced for sexual minorities around the world. The findings of these meetings were brought together in Oslo, with a view to identifying how the international system should respond to the serious violations faced by the LGBT community.

The Oslo conference was planned as a prelude to the 23rd session of the world’s peak human rights body, the Human Rights Council. Two years after South Africa successfully led a ground-breaking resolution at the Council on sexual orientation and gender identity, States are again looking to South Africa for leadership to follow-up on this issue at the coming Council session.

Over the course of two days of intense discussion the call was made several times for the Council to create an expert mechanism that could systematically monitor the violations. Pointing to an information gap, High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navanethem Pillay described the current UN monitoring of the situation of LGBT persons as ‘ad hoc’.  She called for States to establish a mechanism that would ensure that violations are systematically documented and reported. ‘Evidence should be laid before States on a regular basis, providing a solid foundation for discussion. This is the way for more States to commit themselves to action on a national level.’

Calls were also heard for the mainstreaming of LGBT issues throughout existing Council mechanisms. While this does already happen to some extent, with experts such as the Council’s Special Rapporteur on the right to health and the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders having examined LGBT rights within the context of their own mandates, the creation of a dedicated mechanism would undoubtedly promote mainstreaming by giving greater prominence to issues that affect the LGBT community. 

As the co-chairs also noted in their summary of conclusions, the establishment of a mechanism not only allows for the comprehensive documentation of trends, developments , challenges and opportunities, it also provides space for effective strategies to be developed for the better protection of human rights in respect of sexual orientation and gender identity.

ISHR supports this call. The creation of an expert mechanism would mark a major step forwards in the UN’s response to this issue. It would move the debate past the current controversy perpetuated by many African, Islamic, and Eastern European States about whether LGBT rights are human rights and should be discussed in the Council at all, and on to a sustained and systematic consideration of the violations and discrimination suffered.

The composition of the Council is more favourable to this issue than it was at the time that the last resolution was adopted. The hopes are high that South Africa will seize this opportunity to move LGBT rights firmly to its rightful place on the UN’s agenda.   

Contact: Heather Collister h.collister@ishr.ch. ISHR will be providing regular updates on this issue throughout the Council session. You can follow us @ISHRGlobal.

Category:

Topic
  • LGBT rights
Mechanism
  • UN Human Rights Council
Country
  • Norway
  • South Africa