Friday, December 19, 2008

US refuses to sign UN gay rights declaration | News Story on

US refuses to sign UN gay rights declaration | News Story on

By 365gay Newscenter Staff
12.19.2008 9:01am EST

(New York City) The United States Thursday became the lone major western nation to refuse to sign a United Nations statement affirming that human rights protections include sexual orientation and gender identity.
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Rama Yade, French foreign affairs and human rights secretary, appeared before the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday to present the document calling for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be amended to include the new protections.

The document has been signed by the member states of the European Union. It was drafted by France which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. But it also has been signed by about 40 other states.

In all 66 of the U.N.’s 192 member countries signed the nonbinding declaration.

Other countries besides the US who refused to sign the declaration were Islamic countries, Russia and China.

The Vatican also has voiced its opposition. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer at the UN, said in a statement earlier this month that the declaration would discriminate against states which support traditional marriage.

Appearing with Yade on Thursday at the General Assembly was dutch foreign minister Maxime Verhagen and a panel of political figures, human rights experts and LGBT defenders from all continents.

Yade said it was necessary to call the international community’s attention to violence against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The text of the document calls specifically for all countries to de-criminalize homosexuality.

It also provides support to all human rights defenders who are working in the field, often in difficult conditions.

According to some of the declaration’s backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction.

In numerous states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.

“It’s an appalling stance - to not join with other countries that are standing up and calling for decriminalization of homosexuality,” said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

She expressed hope that the U.S. position might change after President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January

Meanwhile, a report issued by Human Rights Watch called laws against homosexuality an oppressive legacy of colonialism.

The 66-page report is called “This Alien Legacy: The Origins of Sodomy Laws in British Colonialism.” It details that sodomy laws were imposed on over three dozen countries, from India to Uganda and from Nigeria to Papua New Guinea by the British Empire in the 1800s.

The British colonial rulers imposed the law against sodomy in India in 1860. This year, the High Court in Delhi ended hearings in a years-long case seeking to decriminalize homosexual conduct there. A ruling in the landmark case is expected soon.

“Half the world’s countries that criminalize homosexual conduct do so because they cling to Victorian morality and colonial laws,” said Scott Long, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. “Getting rid of these unjust remnants of the British Empire is long overdue.”

Some national leaders have defended sodomy laws as reflections of indigenous cultures. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, for example, has called gays and lesbians “un-African” and “worse than dogs and pigs.”

The Human Rights Watch report shows, however, that British colonial rulers brought in these laws because they saw the conquered cultures as morally lax on sexuality. The British also wanted to defend their own colonists against the “corrupting” effect of the colonies. One British viceroy of India warned that British soldiers could succumb to “replicas of Sodom and Gomorrah” as they acquired the “special Oriental vices.”

Today, international human rights standards have compelled former colonial powers to acknowledge that these laws are wrong. England and Wales decriminalized homosexual conduct in 1967. The European Court of Human Rights found in 1981 that a surviving sodomy law in Northern Ireland violated fundamental rights protections.

In 1994, the UN Human Rights Committee - which authoritatively interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - held that sodomy laws violate the rights to privacy and to non-discrimination.

“From Malaysia to Uganda, governments use these laws to harass civil society, restrict free expression, discredit enemies, and destroy lives,” Long said. “And sodomy laws add to the spread of HIV/AIDS by criminalizing outreach to affected groups.”

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