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U.N. Human Rights Council: First Resolution Against Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

(June 28, 2011) On June 17, 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), by a narrow margin of 23-19 (with three abstentions), adopted its first resolution on rights for homosexuals and transgendered individuals, calling for an end to sexual discrimination and recognizing it as a “priority issue” of the U.N. (Julia Zebley, UN Rights Council Passes First Gay Rights Resolution, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (June 17, 2011).)

The non-binding resolution on “human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity” expresses “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity” and calls upon the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to commission a study to be finalized by December 2011, to document discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, in all regions of the world, and how international human rights law can be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity … . (Human Rights Council Res. A/HRC/17/L.9/Rev. 1, Res. on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, HRC 17th Sess. May 30-June 17, 2011, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Documents website (last visited June 27, 2011).) The resolution also states that a panel discussion should subsequently be convened, based on the study, to serve as forum for dialogue on the issue and to consider appropriate follow-up to the study's recommendations. (Id.)

South Africa introduced the resolution and was the only African country to vote in favor of it, incurring the criticism of several African and Middle Eastern nations. In particular, member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) expressed their serious concern “at the attempt to introduce to the UN some notion that has no legal foundations in any international human rights instruments” and in particular “the attempt to focus on certain persons on the grounds of their sexual interest and behaviour”; in addition, on behalf of the OIC, the Nigerian envoy attacked South Africa's stance as breaking tradition with the group. (Hui Min Neo, UN Rights Council Passes 'Historic' Gay Rights Bill, AFP (June 17, 2011); Member States, OIC website (last visited June 22, 2011).)

In 2010, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called for countries worldwide to abolish discriminatory laws against homosexuals. In 2009, the U.N. passed a Joint Statement on Ending Acts of Violence and Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which was sponsored and signed by the United States. The Joint Statement, a nonbinding measure without the weight of a resolution, “called on states to end criminalization and persecution of homosexuals.” It has reportedly been recalled as a result of the resolution. (Zebley, supra; Over 80 Nations Support Statement at Human Rights Council on LGBT Rights [Statement by Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the HRC], United States Mission to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva website (last visited June 22, 2011).)