A UN Milestone: LGBT Rights Treated as Human Rights

In what counts as a milestone in the global march toward equality, the United Nations released its first ever report on the human rights of LGBT people.  While that counts as real progress, the report itself is actually kind of depressing; its title explains why: Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The report is unique for the fact that it puts violence and discrimination LGBT people squarely in the context of long standing international human rights treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

It reads very much like a routine UN human rights report, the subject matter is just a first for the UN. For example, this falls under the “Killings, rape and other acts of discriminatory violence” header:

Since 1999, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has regularly referred to persons being subjected to death threats or killed because of sexual orientation and gender identity. The current mandate holder recently highlighted the murders of at least 31 LGBT persons in Honduras during an 18-month period, including a transgender person found dead in a ditch, her body beaten and burned, showing evidence of rape and blows to her face from stoning so severe as to render the remains virtually unrecognizable. In Jamaica, a man was allegedly stabbed and stoned to death after police, who reportedly participated in the attack, urged others to beat him because he was homosexual. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women has highlighted the targeted murder of lesbians in South Africa, including a case in which two lesbians were beaten, stoned and one stabbed to death…

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs in the United States of America reported 27 bias-motivated murders of LGBT persons in 2010, up from 22 in 2009. The Trans Murder Monitoring project, which collects reports of murders of transgender persons in all regions, lists 680 murders in 50 countries during the period from 2008 to 2011…

The Special Rapporteur on violence against women…described a case in El Salvador in which a transgender woman was placed in a male-only prison and detained in a cell with gang members, where she was raped more than 100 times, sometimes with the complicity of prison officials…

And this falls under “Laws criminalizing same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults and other laws used to penalize individuals because of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Seventy-six countries retain laws that are used to criminalize people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity…In at least five countries the death penalty may be applied to those found guilty of offences relating to consensual, adult homosexual conduct.

The report goes on to describe how discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity creates barriers to accessing health care, educational opportunities and employment. It also describes how countries or municipalities that deny permits for equality marches may be violating international human rights rules regarding the peaceable assembly of civilians and freedom of expression.

All in all, the report itself reads like any other dry, legal text that is stamped with the UN seal. That, itself, is a nice sign of progress.