A panel discussion at the UN’s Human Rights Council on ending violence and discrimination against gay and trans people has been taking place for the first time today in Geneva.
Ban Ki-moon’s video address at the start of the discussion described violence against gays and transgender people as a “monumental tragedy” and a “stain upon our collective conscience”.
Pakistan and Islamic nations in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have, however, declared their opposition to the discussion.
The letter, published by the UN Human Rights Watch blog and written by Pakistani Ambassador to the UN Zamir Akram on behalf of the 57 OIC states, believes the panel will discuss “personal behavior and preferences” which “have nothing to do with fundamental human rights”.
Akram writes that the group is “deeply concerned by the introduction in the Human Rights Council of controversial notions like ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’. The OIC countries have been consistent in their opposition to the consideration of these controversial notions in the context of human right at international fora.”
It outlines concerns that gay and transgender rights are “concepts that have no legal foundation in any international human rights instrument” and that the panel is “misinterpreting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said Pakistan’s opposition was “shameful”.
He said: “Even many governments that disagree with homosexuality agree that violence against anyone, including sexual minorities, is wrong.
“The bigoted stance of the Pakistani Ambassador to the UN is ill-informed about human sexuality and human rights law. He is living in the Dark Ages, ignoring scientific understanding and humanitarian ethics. His homophobic views are an insult to the estimated nine million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pakistanis. They have human rights too.
“The Pakistani penal code punishes homosexuality with life imprisonment but in some regions of the country LGBT people can face execution and so-called honour killings.
“The President and Prime Minister of Pakistan should repudiate Mr Akram’s intolerant, ignorant statement. His rejection of universal human rights is deplorable. It casts the government of Pakistan in a very bad light.
“Pakistan’s rejection of LGBT rights is consistent with its generally poor human rights record, including intense repression in Balochistan and Sindh.”
The panel is expected to affirm its historic 2011 report detailing rights abuses against LGBT people around the world, through violence and discriminatory laws, and a set of recommendations all countries should adopt to protect their citizens.
A statement to the panel from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association said: “We are here, not to ask for our rights, since these are already our birthright as human beings, but to urge States to fulfil their responsibilities to end human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We welcome this panel discussion, and commend South Africa for its leadership in bringing this important human rights issue to the Council’s attention.
“We warmly congratulate the High Commissioner for her report, which marks both a point of arrival and a point of departure, as it poignantly addresses human rights violations that have been highlighted by UN Special Rapporteurs and treaty bodies for close to two decades.
“Around the world, 76 countries still criminalise us because of how we live or who we love. In extreme cases, we face the death penalty. Very often these laws are the relics of colonial-era legislation, rather than the expression of a pre-existing homophobic or transphobic culture.”
It adds: “It is time for the Council to fulfill its responsibility to promote and protect the human rights of all persons without discrimination, and to develop a mechanism to ensure sustained ongoing attention to the systemic human rights violations on these grounds.”
It concludes: “We look forward to working with States and stakeholders from all regions towards the day when all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, can live their lives in the equal freedom and dignity to which all human beings are entitled.”