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United Nations: Officials Urge De-Criminalizing Homosexuality

(Sept. 21, 2010) On September 17, 2010, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for all the nations of the world to eliminate criminal law provisions on sexual orientation and gender identity, saying that laws should be reformed to protect the rights of all people. Pillay was speaking at a panel discussion on ending violence and criminal sanctions based on sexual orientation; the program was held in Geneva, along with the 15th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Pillay delivered a message from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which stated:

No doubt deeply rooted cultural sensitivities can be aroused when we talk about sexual orientation. Social attitudes run deep and take time to change. But cultural considerations should not stand in the way of basic human rights. … No one, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. No one should be prosecuted for their ideas or beliefs. No one should be punished for exercising their right to freedom of expression. (UN Officials Urge Countries to Remove Criminal Sanctions Based on Sexual Orientation, UN NEWS CENTRE (Sept. 17, 2010),

In May 2010, Ban had advocated the end of laws that criminalized people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and he had praised the leaders of Malawi for pardoning a same-sex couple who had previously been given sentences of 14 years of imprisonment. Ban argued that those criminal provisions that are in effect encourage homophobia, violence, and a climate of hate. (Id.)

Pillay noted that there are 78 countries that have such criminal provisions in force and that there is no region in the world in which people are completely free from discrimination or harassment due to sexual orientation or gender identity. She added that she believes “it can never be acceptable to deprive certain individuals of their rights, indeed to impose criminal sanctions on those individuals … simply for being who they are … .” (Id.)