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Ending Violence and Criminal Sanctions on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity

There are 78 countries where individuals may still face criminal sanctions on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity according to Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay.  

Pilay calls for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity“It can never be acceptable,” she told a recent High Level Panel in Geneva on Ending Violence and Criminal Sanctions on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity “to deprive certain individuals of their rights, indeed to impose criminal sanctions on those individuals, not because they have inflicted harm on others or pose a threat to the well-being of others, but simply for being who they are, for being born with a particular sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“The priority should be decriminalization world-wide”, Pillay said. Even then that would only be a first step, “it is not easy for decades of prejudice and intolerance to disappear by the stroke of the legislators’ pen.  But change must be started.”

In a message read to the meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon repeated his appeal of earlier this year “for all countries that criminalize people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity to take the steps necessary to remove such offences from the statute books”.

Ban Ki-moon was joined by the Human Rights High Commissioner, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and civil society representatives from Cameroon, Guyana and India in calling for an end to human rights violations directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

 “Sexual orientation, like skin colour, is a feature of our diversity. How sad it is that when God’s children are facing such massive problems - poverty, disease, corruption, conflict - we are so often obsessed with human sexuality. Is there not already too much hate in this world, without also seeking to persecute those who love?” This excerpt formed part of a video message from Archbishop Tutu who said the United Nations has a particular role to play in standing up for the principles of universal humanity and fellowship.

David Clarke speaking for SASOD, a group based in Guyana which is committed to eradicating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity acknowledged that laws banning sex between males are not often enforced but: “We believe that the mere existence of these laws gives state officers, and private citizens, the belief that their discriminatory actions are legitimized,” he said.

Sunita Kujur representing CREA, an international women’s human rights and sexual rights organization based in New Delhi described the special problems created for men and women in India who want to freely choose their own partners in a heterosexual context. This is not a rural phenomenon or one restricted to the poor and illiterate, Kujur said. “Imagine”, she said “the kind of violence and discrimination that people face when they choose a same sex partner.”

Pillay stressed that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender “knows no boundaries …there is still no region in the world today where people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) can live entirely free from discrimination or from the threat of harassment and physical attack.”

In her closing remarks, the High Commissioner noted that “Today, almost 62 years after the Universal Declaration was adopted, it is, thankfully, unthinkable to impose criminal sanctions on individuals simply on the basis of their gender or the colour of their skin.

“With all our efforts and those of many others, over time let us look forward to a time when it is equally unthinkable that such sanctions could be imposed on people simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.”

23 September 2010