In what LGBT advocates described as "a stunning development for the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," 85 nations signed a pro-gay statement that was read out by Colombia's representative at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 22.
The statement "express ( es ) concern at continued evidence in every region of acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity" and "call ( s ) on states to take steps to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
"Today's statement enjoyed the support of the largest group of countries to date on the topic of sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights," said several LGBT organizations and other "civil society" groups in a joint media release. "It builds on a similar statement delivered by Norway at the Human Rights Council in 2006 ( on behalf of 54 states ) and a joint statement delivered by Argentina at the General Assembly in 2008 ( on behalf of 66 states ) . It is clear that every time these issues are addressed there is measurable increase in state support."
The nations that signed the statement are Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Nigeria's representative spoke against the statement, purportedly on behalf of the council's Africa Group. The representative said the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" are undefined, talked about God, and said it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. At the end, however, he said that laws that criminalize sexual orientation should be expunged.
Pakistan also spoke against the statement on behalf of an official bloc of 57 majority-Muslim nations. Russia opposed the statement, as well, saying it rejects discrimination and violence against LGBT people but should be allowed to limit rights for reasons of public morality. The representative reportedly said that "these people" should not be granted special rights.
The media release heralding the UNHRC statement was issued by ARC International, the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, COC Netherlands, the Coalition of African Lesbians, Global Action for Trans Equality, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and Thailand's Sexual Diversity Network.
In a separate U.S. statement, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said: "The ( Obama ) administration has laudably reaffirmed its commitment to the philosophy that LGBT rights are human rights by joining today's statement before the U.N. Human Rights Council. With over 80 nations jointly participating in the statement, the message is clear that hate violence against LGBT people should not be tolerated by any government."
ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, called the statement "a very significant step forward towards international consensus on LGBTI people's rights."
"The strength of this statement makes the defense of discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexual, trans and intersex people on the basis of a mistaken sense of 'tradition' or 'natural order' more untenable than ever," said the group's co-secretary general, Renato Sabbadini. "Homophobia and transphobia are more and more acknowledged for what they truly are: the last crumbling pillars of a patriarchal order which belong with other dark pages of our past, like slavery and the Inquisition."
ILGA noted that more nations of the Southern Hemisphere signed this year's statement, and it highlighted the signatures of Dominica, Honduras, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Seychelles.
A statement from the White House said, in part: "Over the past months our diplomats have been engaged in frank, and at times difficult, conversations about the human rights of LGBT persons with governments from around the world. This morning, at the United Nations Human Rights Council, some 85 countries joined the United States in reaffirming our joint commitment to end acts of violence and human rights abuses on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The president is proud of the work we have done to build international consensus on this critical issue and is committed to continuing our determined efforts to advance the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
The U.S. State Department said, "This statement adds new references not seen in previous LGBT statements at the U.N., including: welcoming attention to LGBT issues as a part of the Universal Periodic Review process, noting the increased attention to LGBT issues in regional human rights fora, encouraging the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue addressing LGBT issues, and calls for states to end criminal sanctions based on LGBT status."
The Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 states that aims to strengthen and protect human rights worldwide.
Assistance: Bill Kelley