Tell Obama, Clinton: Act Now for UN Decriminalization

Next week, in an historic event for the global gay community, for the very first time a declaration in favor of the universal decriminalization of homosexuality will be presented at the United Nations and read from the podium of the General Assembly. This declaration has already been formally signed and endorsed by the governments of 55 UN member states.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is not among them.

According to a detailed report released this past May by the International Lesbian and Gay Association, which represents LGBT groups in more than 100 countries, "In 2008, no less than 86 member states of the United Nations still criminalize consensual same-sex acts among adults, thus institutionally promoting a culture of hatred. Among those, seven have legal provisions with the death penalty as punishment."

The idea for a statement of principle by the United Nations in support of decriminalizing homosexuality globally was the brainchild of Professor Louis-Georges Tin, the founder of IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia, and the president of the Paris-based International Committee for IDAHO. The campaign for the declaration was launched in November 2006 when IDAHO, at a Paris press conference, unveiled a list of hundreds of VIPs who supported it, including five Nobel Prize winners, ten Pulitzer Prize winners, two former French prime ministers, and six Academy Award winners (see "Bold Move for UN Action," November 21-27, 2006.)

This past May, after a year-long lobbying campaign by IDAHO and an alliance of French LGBT groups spanning the political spectrum from right to left, the French government promised to push for "a European initiative calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality," according to a statement released by French Minister Of Human Rights Rama Yade after conferring with a delegation from this gay alliance (see "France Fights for Decriminalization," May 22-28, 2008.)

In the ensuing months, a working group of countries was formed to agree on wording for the declaration and collect signatures from UN member states. With France in the lead, this working group was made up of representatives of the governments of the Netherlands, Ukraine, Argentina, Gabon, Japan, and New Zealand.

Now the declaration is set to be presented before the UN General Assembly some time between December 15 and 20. Although a precise date and hour will only be scheduled within 48 hours prior to the reading of the declaration due to the press of other business, France and the working group have already scheduled a press conference for December 18 to unveil the decriminalization declaration and its signatories at UN headquarters in New York.

The declaration is non-binding on UN member states, and will not be put to a vote until a majority of the world body’s 192 countries have signed on to it. But next week’s presentation of this unprecedented affirmation that same-sex love must never be a crime has already been signed by the following countries — Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Opposition to universal decriminalization is strong, and led by an alliance of the Vatican and Islamic governments. It will undoubtedly take several years to achieve support from a majority of the United Nations. But next week’s unveiling of the declaration with such widespread international support is a giant first step toward the day when the world community will finally declare that sexual minorities should be free to live as they wish without threat of imprisonment or death.

The absence of the United States from the list of signatories of this declaration is a glaring one, and should be unacceptable in our democracy. And while it is more than unlikely that the Bush administration, given its track record of political homophobia, will support this UN declaration, when Barack Obama was running for president he repeatedly proclaimed his commitment to an end to discrimination against our family of sexual minorities.

"I’m running for President to build an America that lives up to our founding promise of equality for all — a promise that certainly extends to the LGBT community," the president-elect said while a candidate, in one of many similar comments.

The time is now for Obama and his secretary of state-designate, Hillary Clinton, to make good on that promise by announcing that the Obama administration will support the UN declaration on decriminalization of homosexuality.

There is very little political risk for the new administration in doing so — public opinion polls all show that large majorities of Americans oppose the criminalization of same-sex relations, and no serious political leader or elected official supports making homosexuality a crime. Our own United States Supreme Court in 2003 affirmed the right for sexual minorities to be free from prosecution by striking down all the remaining laws criminalizing homosexual sex still on the books.

We urge you to call on both President-elect Obama and Secretary-designate Clinton to announce immediately that they will put the prestige of the United States behind the UN declaration when they take office next month.

Furthermore, we call on our principal national organizations, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which have to date shunned international issues on the grounds that it was "not their mission" to speak up for global LGBT solidarity, make an exception on this historic occasion, and join in calling on the incoming Obama administration to announce its support for the UN decriminalization declaration.

To miss this unparalleled opportunity to strike a blow for the freedom from persecution of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered everywhere on this planet would be a crime against the conscience of American democracy.

Here is the full text of the declaration to be presented at the U.N. next week:

We have the honor to make this statement on human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity on behalf of […]

1 — We reaffirm the principle of universality of human rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whose 60th anniversary is celebrated this year, Article 1 of which proclaims that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights";

2 — We reaffirm that everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of human rights without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, as set out in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 2 of the International Covenants on Civil and Political, Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, as well as in Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

3 — We reaffirm the principle of non-discrimination which requires that human rights apply equally to every human being regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity;

4 — We are deeply concerned by violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms based on sexual orientation or gender identity;

5 — We are also disturbed that violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization and prejudice are directed against persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or gender identity, and that these practices undermine the integrity and dignity of those subjected to these abuses;

6 — We condemn the human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity wherever they occur, in particular the use of the death penalty on this ground, extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, the practice of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary arrest or detention, and deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights, including the right to health;

7 — We recall the statement in 2006 before the Human Rights Council by fifty four countries requesting the President of the Council to provide an opportunity, at an appropriate future session of the Council, for discussing these violations;

8 — We commend the attention paid to these issues by special procedures of the Human Rights Council and treaty bodies and encourage them to continue to integrate consideration of human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity within their relevant mandates;

9 — We welcome the adoption of Resolution AG/RES. 2435 (XXXVIII-O/08) on "Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity" by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States during its 38th session in 3 June 2008;

10 — We call upon all States and relevant international human rights mechanisms to commit to promote and protect human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity;

11- We urge States to take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests; or detention;

12 — We urge States to ensure that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are investigated and perpetrators held accountable and brought to justice;

13 — We urge States to ensure adequate protection of human rights defenders, and remove obstacles which prevent them from carrying out their work on issues of human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity.

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