The French minister of human rights and foreign affairs has confirmed that she will appeal at the United Nations for the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Rama Yade also said that the EU wanted to take the lead in stopping violence against women worldwide.

Until the end of 2008 France will speak for all EU member states at the UN General Assembly, as they hold the rotating Presidency of the European Union.

Earlier this year it was reported that the French initiative on decrminalisation will take the form of a solemn declaration from UN states, rather than a vote in the UN on the matter.

However, Ms Yade said yesterday that France will submit a draft declaration at the UN General Assembly in December. The British government already advocates universal decriminalisation.

She was speaking at 61st Annual Conference of Non-Governmental Organisations at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

It is the first time in its history that the Conference has been convened outside of New York.

1,700 NGOs associated with the United Nations have gathered for three days of debate held under the banner of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon opened proceedings by satellite link this morning.

More than 80 countries outlaw same-sex relations in all circumstances.

The maximum punishments range from a few years jail to life imprisonment.

In nine countries, or regions of countries, the mandatory punishment for homosexuality is death by execution.