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Message by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the International Dialogue on the Intersections of Culture/Tradition with Human Rights Related to Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East and North Africa

20 February 2016

Dear friends,

I would like to express my admiration for the vital work that you do to defend the human rights of lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex and gender non-conforming people across the Middle East and North Africa.

I commend your bravery. Those who work on issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics are often the target of harassment, persecution and violence – by both State officials and private groups and individuals, including violent extremists. You and your organizations are frequently isolated voices reporting gross violations of human rights that are too often ignored not only by the authorities but by mainstream human rights organizations too.  The toll of threats and attacks is a heavy personal and institutional burden.

But thanks to your work, awareness is growing of the violence and discrimination directed at LGBT and intersex people in this region and around the world.  You have helped to expose a pattern of serious and widespread human rights abuses, including specific kinds of violations experienced by lesbian and bisexual women, by trans persons, by gay and bisexual men and by intersex persons.

International, regional and national human rights mechanisms have drawn attention to the lack of investigation of these and related abuses, and to the lack of prosecution of alleged perpetrators. Violence and discrimination against LGBT and intersex people are often perpetrated with total impunity, and when victims seek protection and justice the result is all too often further victimization.

Together with my Office and an increasing number of UN agencies, the UN Secretary-General has been an outspoken champion of equal rights for members of the LGBT and intersex community.  Last September, twelve UN agencies came together to commit to a common vision of ending violence and discrimination against LGBT and intersex people. We outlined a series of steps States should take towards this end, and offered our support. In our joint statement we affirmed that human rights are universal and that cultural, religious and moral practices and beliefs and social attitudes cannot be invoked to justify human rights violations against any group, including LGBT and intersex people.

I am all too aware of how steep a hill lies ahead of us. There is an enormous gap between the promise of universal human rights and the lived reality of LGBT and intersex people in the Middle East and North Africa, and in other regions. But however great the challenges, we should draw strength from the important human rights victories won thanks to the advocacy that you have carried out over many decades.

I wish you a successful meeting, and look forward to hearing about the conclusions of your deliberations.