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Gay groups gain observer status at UN

PinkNews Staff Writer June 9, 2008

One of Europe’s best-known gay rights organisations has been recommended for consultative status at the United Nations.

COC Netherlands, along with Spanish Federacion Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales, will be considered by ECOSOC at its meeting in July in New York.

ECOSOC, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, assists the General Assembly.

Both groups had been denied a recommendation at a January meeting of the NGO Committee, a UN body of 19 member states from all regions whose responsibility includes evaluating NGO applications for consultative status.

In 2005, International Lesbian and Gay Association began its ECOSOC campaign, an initiative aimed at allowing gay, bisexual, lesbian and trans human rights defenders to address the UN “in their own name.”

In 2006 and 2007, after lengthy consideration by the ECOSOC, consultative status was granted to five LGBT organisations:

ILGA-Europe, the Danish, Swedish and German national LGBT federations (LBL, LSVD and RFSL) and the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Quebec, CGLQ.

This development has already allowed ILGA members to address the floor of the Human Rights Council (HRC) plenary, which prompted the High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to state her support for LGBT rights in that international forum.

The US-based International Wages Due Lesbians and Australian-based Coalition of Activist Lesbians have had consultative status at the UN for some years.

Prior applications from LGBT NGOs were rejected by the NGO Committee, and later approved by ECOSOC.

The positive recommendation for COC Netherlands came as a result of a vote called for by the UK in the last hour of the NGO Committee session last week.

States voted as follows:

Columbia, Dominica, Israel, Peru, Romania, UK and the USA In favour of granting the consultative status.

Against granting the status were China, Egypt, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Sudan. Five nations abstained: Angola, Burundi, Guinea, India, Turkey. Cuba as not present.

“Burundi is the country that made the difference,” COC said in a statement.

“They abstained this time instead of voting against (as they did for instance at the January 2008 session of the NGO Committee when the application of the Spanish LGBT Federation was rejected).

“The NGO Committee works by consensus, so the motions for a vote are rare.”

During this second session in 2008 held between May 29 and June 6, the NGO Committee also considered a new application from Lestime, a lesbian women’s group from Geneva, Switzerland, and the deferred application from the Brazilian LGBT Federation (ABGLT).

Both NGOs received more questions from and were deferred without a vote to the NGO Committee session in January 2009.

The questions posed by some NGO Committee members to the applicant NGOs revolved around sexual crimes, particularly paedophilia and relations with people under the age of consent.

Two new questions appeared in this session’s comments from Egypt, Qatar, and Pakistan. One is whether the LGBT NGOs recognised genders beyond male and female.

Qatar’s questions in particular showed confusion between gender and sexual orientation.

The other (rethorical) question was which international human rights treaties explicitly refer to sexual orientation/LGBT people.

The Yogyakarta Principles also made their way into the NGO Committee’s session. Egypt asked COC to express their position in regards to the Yogyakarta Principles, which they introduced as a “Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but only for homosexuals.”

In the explanation of the vote, the UK reiterated a principle they have been stressing across all NGO Committee sessions, “we may disagree with an NGO, but it does not mean that we should exclude them.” Romania added: “this is a break through for this committee, especially as regards the values and principles we are defending in this distinguished forum.”

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