Human Rights Day reminds us of global persecution of gays
December 6, 2006
As we commemorate International Human Rights Day this Dec. 10, more work must be done to ensure the dignity and equality of all human beings, including sexual minorities.
This week at the United Nations in New York, more than four dozen U.N. member states will vote on whether three lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups from Europe will be granted official status to represent this community within the United Nations.
In the 58th year of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there ought to be a place on the international stage where the voices of LGBT people will be heard.
Around the world, the lives of LGBT people are at risk. Dozens of countries criminalize gay sexuality, often resulting in arbitrary round-ups of gay men and lesbians. Many people are prosecuted for nothing more than simply being gay.
One infamous example is the "Cairo 52," a group of 52 gay men who were dancing at a disco in Cairo, Egypt, until the police raided it and dragged them all off to jail in May 2001. Two trials and almost two years later, 21 of the men received three-year prison sentences and the other 21 were acquitted.
Gay organizations in Turkey and Honduras have had to fight regular battles for the right to exist.
Governments in Poland and Russia have consistently turned away requests from people who have attempted to organize gay pride activities. Some have faced angry and violent crowds that the police have barely controlled.
In Chile, the country's Supreme Court denied a lesbian judge custody of her three children.
A gay journalist in Uzbekistan was imprisoned for challenging his government's repression.
In Iran, several young men who were accused of sex-related crimes were publicly hanged.
In Nepal, the government rounded up and jailed 39 members of the only gay group for no apparent reason and then released them only after a global outcry.
It is the job of the United Nations to record, and respond to, human rights violations. And it is the international body's job to monitor how well countries are fulfilling their legal obligation to protect these rights for all people within their borders.
At the moment, there is no functioning group representing the voices and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at the United Nations.
In fact, the United States has lobbied against LGBT folks for more than a decade. Just a year ago, the United States joined China, Cuba and Iran in voting against inclusion of LGBT voices at the United Nations, only to turn around after international activists and organizations expressed outrage at the overt discrimination committed by our own democracy.
But there is hope. On Dec. 1, the United States signed on with 53 other governments at the United Nations to a simple proclamation calling for more discussion and attention to the human rights conditions faced by LGBT people around the world.
Now, as the United Nations meets in New York, the United States must stand up for justice not only by voting to welcome in gay groups, but also by advocating on their behalf with other voting members of the committee.
It is long past time to acknowledge LGBT people as human beings whose dignity and equality should be respected.
The international process must start by including all of us in the most robust human rights body in the world -- the United Nations.
Paula L. Ettelbrick is executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a U.S.-based global organization that engages in, and supports, global sexual and gender rights advocacy. She is also adjunct professor of law at New York University Law School, and can be reached at email@example.com.