Skip to main content

Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Statement by Navi Pillay United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the occasion of the presentation of the ILGA “LGBTI Friend of the Year” award and 2014 State-Sponsored Homophobia report and the Panel on International Human Rights Law and Sexual Orientation

30 May 2014

Geneva, 30 May 2014

Excellencies, Distinguished Friends,

Thank you for honouring me with this award. I am indeed an LGBTI friend. Like the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am convinced that the struggle to protect and promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons is one of the great neglected human rights challenges of our time.

During my mandate as High Commissioner, the United Nations has gone from being mostly silent, to openly advocating measures to combat discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons. My Office played an important part in this transformation, with strong and concerted advocacy for the worldwide repeal of laws that criminalize homosexuality and transgender expression, and a range of other measures to protect people from violence and prejudice based on sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Today, more States acknowledge the gravity of these human rights violations, and their response is more vigorous. Discriminatory laws have been repealed in more than 40 countries since 1990, and many States have taken active measures to combat violence and discrimination.

For millions of LGBTI people, the world has undoubtedly become a better, safer and fairer place. This is a direct result of your work. LGBTI persons and human rights defenders have documented violence and prejudice. They have raised their voices, at the national, global and regional level, to demand the right to be full citizens.

We support your struggle because regardless of race, culture or religion; regardless of economic context or political power; regardless of disability or age or citizenship or sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, all human beings are equal in dignity, and all are entitled to enjoy human rights. If any group can be excluded from human rights, then the universal and interdependent human rights of all are denied.

Four centuries ago, a 15 year old schoolboy, Bartholomé Tecia, was deliberately drowned by public officials in front of a crowd, after they had found him guilty of homosexual conduct. This happened just a couple of miles away from where we stand today. Across the centuries, in Europe and beyond, people were arrested, often tortured, then tried and executed because their sexual conduct was outside the strict accepted social norms. They were drowned, burned, stoned, flogged, hanged and mutilated.

And still today, this hatred, prejudice and violence is directed against LGBTI persons in many countries. ILGA's report on State-Sponsored Homophobia makes for painful reading. Consensual, same-sex relationships are still considered a criminal offence in 77 countries. In six, the penalty prescribed by national law is death by execution.

In many countries, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women face horrific, hate-motivated sexual violence and murder. Transgender persons continue to face widespread violence and stigma, and are denied legal recognition of their gender identity. Medically unnecessary and irreversible surgeries and sterilizations continue to be performed on intersex children without their informed consent, causing lifelong harm. All over the world, LGBTI persons still face discrimination in employment, housing, education and health. These human rights violations, for the most part, take place with impunity, and with no remedy for victims.

What can we do about this? We must keep a strong focus on the repeal of discriminatory laws, on preventing violence and discrimination and on pressing for an end to impunity for human rights violations against LGBTI persons. In this regard, I welcome the recent resolution of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights which has joined other regional human rights mechanisms calling on States to take steps to protect persons from human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, to investigate violence and prosecute perpetrators.

Governments, members of parliament, national human rights institutions, judicial actors and civil society organisations should share positive examples of strategies that have worked to help guide their peers in other countries. And the Human Rights Council can maintain its attention on this human rights issue by instituting regular reporting at the inter-governmental level.

Much has been achieved. Even in countries where progress has so far lagged, and where resistance is most entrenched, we have seen new awareness of the human rights of the LGBTI community. In my lifetime, and indeed in the past five years, I have seen significant progress towards equality, largely through the activism of LGBTI movements. If I have taken some small part in that progress, I am proud to have done so.

Thank you.