The Question of LGBT Rights
Welcome back to university! I hope you all had fantastic holidays and are ready for this semester, ready for our weekly sessions. For the third block of the 2017/2018 year, we will be simulating the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) instead of the usual General Assembly. This is important for you delegates, because instead of being able to choose from all countries represented at the UN, you will only be able to choose from the 47 countries with a mandate for the UNHRC. The first come, first serve rule applies now more than ever!
History and Background
Homosexuality is generally understood as the romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behavior between members of the same sex or gender. It is no new phenomenon, with the earliest documented cases dating back thousands of years to ancient African civilizations. After acceptance generally experienced a rollback when modern religions and the Middle Ages came along, over the past 200 years there has been a resurgence, mainly in the western world. Many countries in Africa and the Arab world still either ignore, dismiss or criminalize homosexuality and homosexual behavior. In 11 states, it is even considered a crime punishable by death. When compared to states such as Serbia, where the prime minister, Ana Brnabic, is openly gay, or Brazil, where same-sex marriages are performed, one can see the vast difference between acceptance of homosexuality around the world.
LGBT, however, stands for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders. While bisexuality remains comparatively somewhat in the background, being transgender, while independent of sexual orientation, brings a host of new discussion topics to the table. It is an umbrella term encompassing many gender identities, such as agender, non-binary or trans man/trans woman. Transgenders face arguably the harshest discrimination of the LGBT group and face many rights issues all over the world – and this time, not limited to mainly the African and Arab world. Many western countries struggle with the question of transgenders, two examples being the use of toilets and enrollment in the military.
The Current Situation
As mentioned previously, LGBT rights vary greatly around the globe. In some countries, LGBT rights are taken very seriously, while in others, they are dismissed entirely. In some countries, being gay is punishable by death. Much of this aversion has its roots in history, religion and culture. It is therefore very difficult to change anything, because often times, the aversion is rooted deep in the core beliefs of individuals and groups. And then there is also the question of how much can the UN really do about this? Cultural norms have to be respected, while at the same time one’s own cultural norms may compel some sort of action, some sort of interference.
Countries that are classified as “western” are primarily the ones more accepting of homosexuality and the LGBT community in general. These countries have been making progress and don’t seem to be stopping, a prime example of which would be Canada, a country which is very mindful of its minorities, including LGBT groups. These countries pass legislation to protect LGBT groups from discrimination and bullying, something that is still present in every country, regardless of their progress. On the other hand, there are countries where it is illegal. Normative issues, but also other arguments, such as increased HIV-rates among gay men, are brought forth by these countries in an attempt to curb international progress on LGBT rights. One strong representative of this group is Saudi Arabia, which has a lot of influence – not just regionally, but also globally, as an important trading partner for many.
Past UN Action
The earliest mention of LGBT rights at the UN were in 1995. Not much happened of it, but in 2003, a resolution was proposed for the first time, by Brazil, to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Discussions were postponed though, and culminated in a 2008 joint statement, signed by 66 states, in support of LGBT rights. The Arab league promptly issued a counterstatement in opposition to LGBT rights. Neither of the statements have been officially accepted by the General
The first resolution to pass in support of LGBT rights was voted upon in 2011, led by South Africa. It was accepted with 23 votes in favor, with 19 against and 3 abstentions in the body we are simulating during this session block, the UNHRC. The goal was to get the High Commissioner for Human Rights to draft a report “documenting discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity”.
In 2014, several South American countries led another resolution at the UNHRC, on “human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity”. It passed with 25 votes in favor, 17 against and 4 abstentions, an increased pro-margin than in 2011.
What are You Looking to Do?
Research your country’s position on LGBT rights as best you can - each country has quite different views, giving us a wide range of interesting positions which we hope to have represented to the fullest at this topic block. Ideally, you would want a resolution to either support or condemn an increase in LGBT rights recognition at the UN. Negotiate, debate, and compromise to find an optimal solution! I’m looking forward to another semester of great sessions with all of you!
Useful Links to Start Researching