Editorial: The Great Divide at UNHRC

BY ANDREA MORANTE, New York Times

A great divide Western and both African and Middle Eastern member states has consolidated in the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) during the First Committee Session. From a birds-eye view, the question of how international cooperation can succeed on establishing peace and consistency regarding the treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community remains as an unanswered question.

On one hand, Western states such as the United States of America, the Netherlands, and Sweden have called out for the need for change in regards to the “gay panic defense” that often result in the reduction of punishment for violent acts against LGBTQ people. On the other, African and Middle Eastern member states such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan have pointed on the need to respect sovereign rights for holding their own heteronormative legislations. This contrast has placed forward a challenge for member states to remain fateful on diplomatic discourse, as it is hoped that action in regards to the protection of this minority group is not hampered again.

In 2003, Brazil placed forward a resolution aimed at the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, the differing perspectives amongst member states, especially those from Middle Eastern member states, regarding the resolution concluded with its postponement. In 2006, a similar situation occurred after the Delegation of Norway issued a statement through which it sought to include gender identity and human rights violations based on sexual orientation and was met with opposition.

It was not until 2011 that the first UNHRC resolution directed towards the rights of the LGBTQ people was passed. Although the resolution only requested that the Office of the High Commissioner give a report on discriminatory laws and violence against LGBTQ, a major achievement had been made by the international community.

Since then, United Nations entities such as the International Labor Organization (ILO), the World Health Assembly (WHO), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have released joint statements for ending discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ. However, no international legislation, resolution or declaration been passed by the United Nations General Assembly.

For this reason, the sole fact that the international community voted on yesterday’s first committee session for discussing the topic of “Violence Against LGBTQ People” was an outstanding achievement. And more so will it be if consensus is reached between Western and both African and Middle Eastern member states. However, this stellar achievement will only be achieved if diplomatic dialogue takes its course, as member states will need to be attentive about the varying religious and cultural differences amongst member states.

“As firm believers in the word of Allah, and supporters of the sharia law,” stated the Delegation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “Our Federal Penal Code condemns – and is not looking to award- homosexuality in any way.”

Looking towards abiding human rights, however, The UAE has mentioned, both in its interview with The New York Times and its speeches, how it currently “holds one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world.” In this way, although the UAE will hold an inflexible position in regards to its legislation on homosexual activity, it will be open to condemn violence against the LGBTQ people. Also, it will be looking to promote the physical integrity of the LBTQ through “Report, not Violent” program, which will offer legal advice on LGBTQ violence through brochures and hotlines.

Just like UAE, several African and Middle Eastern member states such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia have placed programs that are looking to provide safety to the LGBTQ community while adhering to their own religious and cultural traditions.

According to the Delegation of the United States of America (USA), the possibility of reaching consensus will be in high dependence to on “the usage of current Human Rights Council Mechanism.”

Precisely because of this, it will be crucial for member states to pass moderated caucuses related to the issue, and to be attentive at the differences that lay between the cultural and religious aspects of member states.

Not mentioning as much as last presidency.

The success or failure of the UNHCR is yet to be determined by future sessions of debate. Nonetheless, a significant milestone has been achieved through the consensus on discussing the pressing topic of “Violence against the LGBTQ.” Beyond this conference, a vulnerable minority awaits for an answer to be given.

 

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