In a reversal of policy, the
United States on January 23rd backed an Iranian initiative to deny United
Nations consultative status to organizations working to protect the
rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In a
letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, a coalition of 40
organizations, led by the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called for an explanation of the vote which
aligned the United States with governments that have long repressed the
rights of sexual minorities.
"This vote is an aggressive assault by the U.S. government on the right
of sexual minorities to be heard," said Scott Long, director of the LGBT
rights program at Human Rights Watch. "It is astonishing that the Bush
administration would align itself with Sudan, China, Iran and Zimbabwe
in a coalition of the homophobic."
In May 2005, the International Lesbian and Gay Association, which is
based in Brussels, and the Danish gay rights group Landsforeningen for
Bosser og Lesbiske (LBL) applied for consultative status with the UN
Economic and Social Council. Consultative status is the only official
means by which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world
can influence and participate in discussions among member states at the
United Nations. Nearly 3,000 groups enjoy this status.
States opposed to the two groups' applications moved to have them
summarily dismissed, an almost unprecedented move at the UN, where
organizations are ordinarily allowed to state their cases. The U.S.
abstained on a vote which would have allowed the debate to continue and
the groups to be heard. It then voted to reject the applications.
"The United States recklessly ignored its own reporting proving the need
for international support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
people," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "The State
Department's 'Country Reports on Human Rights Practices' show severe
human rights violations based on gender identity and sexual orientation
occur around the world."
As the U.S. government acknowledged in its 2004 country report on Iran,
Iranian law punishes homosexual conduct between men with the death
penalty. Human Rights Watch has documented four cases of arrests,
flogging, or execution of gay men in Iran since 2003. In its 2004
country report on Zimbabwe, the U.S. government noted President Robert
Mugabe's public denouncement of homosexuals, blaming them for "Africa's
ills." In the past, Mugabe has called gays and lesbians "people without
rights" and "worse than dogs and pigs."
The U.S. has reversed position since 2002, when it voted to support the
International Lesbian and Gay Association's request to have its status
reviewed. Officials gave no explanation for the change.
"It is deeply disturbing that, at the UN, the United States has shifted
gears toward an aggressive stance against human rights for LGBT people,"
said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and
Lesbian Human Rights Commission. "Unfortunately, denying LGBT groups a
voice and a presence within the United Nations – the world's most
important human rights institution – is fully in keeping with the U.S.'s
assault on basic human rights principles worldwide."
In voting against the applications to the NGO committee, the U.S. was
joined by Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, the Russian Federation,
Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Votes in favor of consultative status came
from Chile, France, Germany, Peru, and Romania. Colombia, India, and
Turkey abstained, while Cote d'Ivoire was absent.
"It is an absolute outrage that the United States has chosen to align
itself with oppressive governments – all in an effort to smother the
voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the
world," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force. "It is deeply disturbing that the self-proclaimed
'leader of the free world' will ally with bigots at the drop of a hat to
advance the right wing's anti-gay agenda."
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