The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the continued criminalisation of homosexual sex across the world.

Mrs Navanethem Pillay, a South African, was addressing at a high level meeting on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN in New York last month.

She was the first woman to start a law practice in her home province of Natal in 1967 and acted as a defence attorney for anti-apartheid activists.

“There remain too many countries which continue to criminalise sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex in defiance of established human rights law,” she said.

“Ironically many of these laws, like apartheid laws that criminalised sexual relations between consenting adults of different races, are relics of the colonial era and are increasingly becoming recognised as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all.

“It is our task and our challenge to move beyond a debate on whether all human beings have rights – for such questions were long ago laid to rest by the Universal Declaration – and instead to secure the climate for implementation.

“Those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, those who are transgender, transsexual or intersex, are full and equal members of the human family, and are entitled to be treated as such.”

ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association, said that more than six dozen countries still have laws against consensual sex between adults of the same sex.

66 nations supported the statement on LGBT rights at a session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month.

It was read out by Argentina’s Ambassador the UN.

It does not create new rights and is not legally binding but instead builds on similar past initiatives.

It affirms the principle of universality: that all human beings, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are entitled to equal dignity and respect.

The high-level meeting was organised on behalf of the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, Gabon, the Netherlands and Norway and was chaired by Gloria Careaga, co-secretary general of ILGA.

Among the speakers was French Human Rights minister Rama Yade, one of the original backers of the UN statement, gay Nepalese MP Sunil Pant, Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen and Mark Tewksbury, Olympic champion and activist from Canada.

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour challenged the continued oppression of women and sexual minorities in a valedictory speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June.

“A failure to understand or accommodate diversity has inevitably led to an erosion of the rights of minorities and vulnerable people within a country, and those of individuals who move across borders, including refugees or migrants,” she told the 47-member council.

During her time as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights many Muslim and African countries expressed their displeasure at Mrs Arbour’s insistence that gay and lesbian people and women have human rights equal to those of men.