Certi Diritti Draft video message by Charles Radcliffe

Certi Diritti
Draft video message by Charles Radcliffe
Chief, Global Issues, OHCHR- New York
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights opens with the immortal
words: “All human beings are born free and equal”.
Yet, around the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex
people are harassed, attacked, imprisoned and treated in a discriminatory
For many, the promise of the Universal Declaration rings hollow. They
feel anything but free and equal.
In 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner
for Human Rights Navi Pillay launched a global appeal for the
decriminalization of homosexuality and further measures to end
homophobic violence and discrimination.
Since then, we have seen the adoption of first ever UN resolution on the
issue … the first official UN report documenting abuses … and the first
formal, intergovernmental debate.
After a long period of denial, a dialogue among States is at last unfolding
at the United Nations. A lid has been lifted.
This is an issue where the politics are shifting fast.
In 2005, when a statement expressing concern at violations against LGBT
people was first circulated at the UN, 32 countries sign it.
Within a year, that number had grown to 54. By 2008, it had increased to
67 and, by 2011, to 85 States from all regions.
Even so, deep divisions remain.
And it is the same objections that come up again and again.
First, that LGBT people are asking for new rights or special rights.
In fact, the rights being demanded are neither new nor special. They are
age-old and universal.
They are the same rights we are all entitled to: among them, the right to
life and personal security, to privacy, health and education, to freedom
from discrimination and freedom of expression, association and
So, no new rights needed, just proper enforcement of existing ones.
Second, some say that because human rights treaties do not explicitly
mention homophobic discrimination, States have no legal obligation to
tackle it.
But international law requires States to protect the rights of everyone …
without distinction.
There is no fine print, no hidden exemption clause, in any of our
international human rights treaties that would permit a State to guarantee
full rights to some but withhold them from others purely on the basis of
their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Third, there is the view that sexual orientation and gender identity are
somehow Western concepts being unfairly imposed on unwilling nations.
But sexual orientation and gender identity are no more Western than
racial identity, or disability or age are Western notions. We all have a
sexual orientation and a gender identity, whether we talk about it or not.
It is part of our make up as human beings.
If anything can be traced to the West it is the existence of many criminal
laws used to prosecute and punish people on the basis of their sexual
orientation and gender identity.
These laws -- still in place in some 76 countries -- were in most cases
imposed in the 19th Century by the colonial powers of the day. They are
relics of a bygone age.
Perhaps the most common objection we hear is that same sexrelationships run counter to religious teachings and prevailing traditional
and cultural values in many societies.
It would be wrong to underestimate the importance of tradition, culture
and religion in shaping society. But they are not monolithic, nor can they
override individual freedoms.
The collective, however united, cannot impose its shared traditions,
culture and religious belief on an individual against his or her wishes.
Take religion: freedom of religion is a fundamental right, anchored in
international law.
People are fully entitled to believe -- and to follow in their own lives -whatever religious teachings they choose.
What’s more, they are entitled to protection from discrimination on the
basis of their religious beliefs.
But they are not entitled to discriminate against others whose views and
values differ from their own.
This not the first time that tradition, culture and religion have been used
as a pretext for denying people equal rights.
Slavery, child marriage, marital rape, honor killings, denial of property
and inheritance rights to women, female genital mutilation – all have
been defended in their time on grounds of tradition, culture or religion.
In this case, the conflict between the rights of LGBT people, on the one
hand, and culture, tradition and religion, on the other, is a false one.
The protection of one need not be at the expense of the other.
The key is to bring the debate back to the rights of individuals, including
the right to define their own values, beliefs and culture for themselves.
We still have a long way to go to end violence and discrimination against
LGBT people.
The debate at the United Nations is just starting. To be meaningful, it
must be informed – by the facts.
That requires violations to be systematically monitored, documented and
reported. The same level of scrutiny should apply to these violations as to
This is a great human rights cause, on a par with earlier struggles to
eliminate other kinds of prejudice and discrimination.
Overcoming resistance, countering prejudice, convincing Governments to
step up and protect LGBT people—none of this is easy.
But the defense of basic rights demands nothing less of us.
Thank you.