ARTICLE 19 today joined more than 380 organisations calling for UN Human Rights Council (HRC) action on violence and discrimination against people on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It follows the presentation of a significant report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on this issue, the second in the history of the HRC.
The report by the High Commissioner on Human Rights on discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (HRC report), documents the wide range of serious human rights violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons face in all parts of the world. The report, the second of its kind for the HRC, was prompted by the adoption of resolution 24/32 in September 2014, which, though adopted by vote, commanded significantly more support than its 2011 predecessor (Res 17/19).
The joint civil society statement, delivered by ILGA-World to the 29th Session of the Human Rights Council, formed part of a general debate on the follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (Item 8).
The statement welcomes the High Commissioner’s report, and cites how violence and discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or intersex status, remains a systemic and global concern. It points to the criminalisation of identities and expression; impunity for murder; opposition, obstruction and banning of the work of human rights defenders, including through the application of so-called “anti-propaganda” laws; the denial of free assembly and association rights, and attempts to silence diverse voices.
High Commissioner’s Report
The HRC report contains a damning analysis of violations the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and public participation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people (at paras 18 – 19, 48 – 49, 60 – 61).
Echoing concerns raised by ARTICLE 19 in recent years, the report brings particular attention to violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and public participation for LGBTI people. From oppressive so-called “propaganda” bans, to restrictions on pride events and the right to solicit, receive and utilise resources, the report makes clear that safeguarding civic space must be a critical part of the response to violence and discrimination against LGBTI people.
The recommendations in the report call on States to undertake a number of measures, including
- To repeal propaganda bans, and protect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association rights for all people without discrimination.
- To prohibit advocacy of hatred constituting incitement to violence on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and
- To take efforts to support public education campaigns to counter such hatred.
These recommendations correspond to those in ARTICLE 19’s report on ‘propaganda’ bans “traditional values? Attempts to censor sexuality”, and the guidance in ARTICLE 19’s policy brief “responding to hate speech against LGBTI people”.
Importantly, the High Commissioner’s report recommends that the Human Rights Council “should keep itself regularly informed of patterns of violence and discrimination linked to sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as emerging State responses.”
State responses at the HRC
Leading a cross-regional statement by States, Colombia recalled the first Article of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, stating that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, stressing “not some, not most, but all.”
The cross-regional statement also welcomed the adoption of regional resolutions on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, including in the Organization of American States, initiatives of the Asia-Pacific Forum on National Human Rights Institutions, recommendations of the Council of Europe and guidelines of the European Union, and attention by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
While recognising significant advances at the regional and national levels, the statement did not address in substance many of the recommendations contained in the High Commissioner’s report. It calls on States to only “take steps” to “end acts of violence, discrimination, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity”. It does not address specific areas of concern, including those around discrimination and violence against people in the exercise of their freedom of expression, association and assembly rights.
While encouraging further reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the statement does not commit to institutionalising such reporting and dialogue through further resolutions of the HRC.
The discussion on violence and discrimination against LGBTI people at the HRC comes during a month of Pride events around the world.
As international and regional human rights procedures emphasised on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in May 2014, “protecting and promoting the rights of LGBTI people to free expression, association, and peaceful assembly is crucial to end their discrimination and address the appalling human rights violations inflicted upon them.” In June 2014, in his annual report to the 26th Session of the HRC, Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the freedoms to peaceful assembly and of association, emphasised that States must protect the freedom of assembly and association rights of LGBTI people, noting that “a government that can silence one group can silence all groups”.
On 28 June 2015, a peaceful assembly to celebrate Pride in Istanbul, Turkey, was violently and disproportionately dispersed by police, using water canons, tear gas and rubber bullets. The Governor of Istanbul reportedly revoked permission for the assembly at the last minute. Denial of permission to assemble is not a recognised ground under international law to disperse a peaceful assembly by the use of force. Turkey is part of a core-group of States that led a resolution on “human rights in the context of peaceful protests” at the HRC in March 2014, calling on States to avoid the use of force during peaceful protests, and ensure accountability for human rights violations in the context of peaceful protests. At the outcome of its Universal Period Review on 26 June 2015, Turkey accepted 9 out of 11 recommendations on the rights of LGBTI persons.
ARTICLE 19 calls on all States to ensure for all people the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, without discrimination, including on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. This must include the repeal of so-called “propaganda” bans, and other measures to limit civic space for LGBTI persons and associations.
To respond to the systematic violations of human rights against LGBTI persons, the HRC must commit to ensuring regular reporting constructive dialogue and sustained systematic attention to the breath of human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
 The cross-regional statement is available on the HRC extranet, username “HRC Extranet”, password “1session”, here: https://extranet.ohchr.org/sites/hrc/HRCSessions/RegularSessions/29thSession/OralStatements/3_Colombia_Group_States_EU_GD_Item_8.pdf
 In this regard, ARTICLE 19 welcomes the statements of Latvia (on behalf of the European Union), Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden.