United Nations Headquarters, New York, 26 September 2013
When I became High Commissioner, five years ago, there was almost no discussion at the UN of human rights challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. That is no longer the case – and I want to commend you, members of the Core Group, for the part you are playing in bringing about a new era of openness and dialogue.
The change we see at the UN mirrors a deeper shift at the country level. Over the past decade, many countries have embarked on historic reforms – strengthening anti-discrimination laws, combating hate crime against LGBT people and sensitizing public opinion.
But in spite of advances, very serious challenges remain.
Not a week goes by without my Office receiving reports of brutal violence and intimidation, police harassment and widespread discriminatory treatment affecting LGBT people around the world. Those who speak out in defence of the rights of LGBT people risk persecution and assault and even, in some countries, legal sanctions.
In some places, things seem to be getting worse, not better. As you know, regressive new laws have been proposed or adopted in several Eastern European and African countries in the past year alone.
Concern is mounting throughout the UN human rights system – as reflected in the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review and recommendations of treaty bodies, and in an uptick in the number of urgent appeals sent to governments by special procedures.
We must, all of us, look for new ways to talk about this issue with Governments – especially those that are reluctant to do so.
When I meet with ministers on my travels and urge them to adopt measures to better protect the rights of LGBT people, they sometimes try to deflect the discussion. They say that that same-sex relationships and transgender identities go against their culture, religious beliefs or traditional values. My answer is that human rights are universal.
Overcoming intolerance and prejudice will require more public education. In July, we launched a new UN public education campaign, Free & Equal. It’s a campaign for equality and respect for LGBT people everywhere. Information on the campaign is available in the room.
Our campaign on behalf of marginalized communities will meet resistance, even opposition. We must not be discouraged. We must stay engaged. Let us keep voicing our concerns, let us keep finding new allies, sharing good practice and standing fast alongside local human rights defenders on the front lines of this struggle.
Thank you all for the role you are playing in doing just that. Thank you for your strong commitment to the cause of human rights for all.