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Arab, African delegates walk out on U.N. LGBT rights conference

Wednesday, March 7, 2012
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GENEVA, Switzerland — Delegates from Arab and African countries staged a massive walkout on Wednesday during an historic UN Human Rights Council debate on gay rights, saying they refused to legitimize same-sex relations.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, addressing the 47-member, Geneva-based council during its first-ever session on sexual orientation-based discrimination and violence, said, “We see a pattern of violence and discrimination directed at people just because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

The Secretary General’s remarks prompted the walk-out by delegates from Muslim and African countries who comprise the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Delegates exited the chamber in protest claiming that LGBTQ equality was was not covered by global human rights accords.

One diplomat from Pakistan described homosexuality as “licentious behaviour.”

“This is a monumental tragedy for those affected – and a stain on our collective conscience. It is also a violation of international law. You, as members of the Human Rights Council, must respond,” Ki-moon told the assembly.

The UN’s human rights high commissioner, Navi Pillay, told the gathered diplomats that LGBT persons should be protected by all governments.

Islamic nations and most of the African countries have long kept discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity along with LGBT equality off the Council’s agenda, but an effort by the United States and South Africa brought it onto the agenda last year.

Mauritania, speaking on behalf of Arab nations — all of whose members are also in the OIC — said attempts to impose “the controversial topic of sexual orientation” would undermine open and frank productive discussions in council regarding other human rights issues.

Pillay, who was once herself a South African supreme court judge, told the remaining diplomats that her life under South Africa’s infamous apartheid system taught her that “ignorance and bigotry” could only be overcome by education and frank discussion among people with different views.

Commissioner Pillay detailed how homophobia has led to abuse, often fatal, around the globe, ranging from mob killing for males, multiple rape of lesbians “to cure them” and torture in public and private jails.

A recently released UN report said 76 countries among the UN’s 192 members had laws criminalizing homosexual behavior. At least five – in particular Iran – implement the death penalty, while efforts are under way in Uganda to introduce the same punishment.

“I know some will resist what we are saying,” said Pillay, who earlier this week was accused by Egypt of promoting homosexuality by pressing on with the report despite the objections of Islamic countries.

In a clear reference to Islamic and African countries, she said some states would argue that homosexuality or bisexuality “conflict with local cultural or traditional values, or with religious teachings, or run counter to public opinion”.

She said that they were free to hold their opinions, however, “That is as far as it goes. The balance between tradition and culture, on the one hand, and universal human rights on the other, must be struck in favour of rights.”

Watch Ki-moon’s remarks here:

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