The Vatican’s observer at the United Nations has criticised a European Union initiative on homosexuality.

At the UN General Assembly later this month a declaration against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will be presented.

All 27 countries of the European Union have signed the declaration, which will be presented by France.

Monsignor Celestino Migliore, the Holy See’s permanent observer at the UN, claims the declaration could be used to force countries to recognise same-sex marriage.

“If adopted, they would create new and implacable discriminations,” he said.

“For example, states which do not recognise same-sex unions as ‘matrimony’ will be pilloried and made an object of pressure.”

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.

There is no mention of same-sex marriage in the UN declaration. Only a handful of countries recognise gay and lesbian marriages, among them Canada, Belgium and South Africa.

In September the French minister of human rights and foreign affairs 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.

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.

France will instead submit a draft declaration at the UN General Assembly between December 15th and 20th. The British government already advocates universal decriminalisation.

It is thought that this is the first time a declaration of this kind has reached the General Assembly.

After it is presented it is hoped that the momentum for decriminalisation will build and that there will be enough support for a resolution to be passed in the UN.

The Vatican today defended their UN observer.

“It’s not for nothing that fewer than 50 member states of the United Nations have adhered to the proposal in question while more than 150 have not adhered. The Holy See is not alone,” a spokesman said.