International LGBT Rights Organization Granted UN Consultative Status


by Antoine Craigwell

(New York, NY) – The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) on Monday, Jul 19, 2010 granted consultative status in a vote by the full United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The vote for IGLHRC, by a US-led resolution, is the tenth organization working primarily for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) human rights to gain such status at the United Nations.

According to a press release issued by IGLHRC, Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC executive director, said, "Today’s decision is an affirmation that the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have a place at the United Nations as part of a vital civil society community. The clear message here is that these voices should not be silenced and that human rights cannot be denied on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."

With 23 in favor, 13 against, 13 abstentions and, five absences, the resolution passed. Notably, among the Caribbean nations, Bahamas and St. Kitts & Nevis voted against the resolution, with St. Lucia abstaining. Among the African countries, Egypt, Namibia, Niger, and Zambia were against, with Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Mozambique, and Rawanda abstaining, and with Cameroon, Congo and Guinea-Bissau absent from the vote. Venezuela was the only South American country on the ECOSOC to vote against, and surprisingly, given the advances in LGBT rights, India abstained from the vote.

The press release stated that this favorable vote comes after a lengthy three-year application process, where despite providing all the requirements IGLHRC faced deferrals, homophobic questioning, and procedural roadblocks in the ECOSOC non-governmental organization (NGO) committee. The vote upended a "no action" vote in the NGO-committee, which seemed to be heading in the direction of a precedent that labeled organizations considered controversial from an opportunity to have their applications voted on, even after submitting to the required reviews. The IGLHRC vote followed a letter to all UN member states signed by more than 200 NGOs from 59 countries, which called for fair and non-discriminatory treatment of LGBT voices in the international arena.

Frank Mugisha, Chairperson of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), one of 13 NGOs from Uganda to publicly call for IGLHRC to be accredited, said, "As human rights defenders and LGBT people living in countries where homophobic discrimination is a daily reality, we celebrate the accreditation of IGLHRC at the UN. IGLHRC’s access to the UN means that we too will have greater access to international human-rights mechanisms that can prove invaluable to LGBT people’s lives."

The IGLHRC press release announcing the favorable vote said that the United States supported the organization’s application, and called for a vote in both the NGO Committee and ECOSOC. The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, publicly demonstrated her support for IGLHRC’s application. Also, 14 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and four Senators sent letters of support for IGLHRC to all member states, which included Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

On the UN Website, details of the discussion preceding the vote, the U.S. representative said of IGLHRC that "by promoting the implementation of human rights treaties, it had already made a significant contribution to supporting the United Nations Charter and the work of the Council.  It had been a leader in the battle against HIV/AIDS, and had been praised by both the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)."

The unnamed U.S. representative said that the Committee on Non-governmental Organizations had refused for more than a decade to grant consultative status to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender civil society group, although the Council had acted to grant consultative status to seven such organizations whose applications had been rejected. Those seven Council decisions, she added, had firmly established the principle that a non-governmental organization’s support for gay and lesbian rights should not be a disqualifying factor in the NGO Committee’s decisions to grant consultative status. Unfortunately, she said, the Committee continued to act in complete disregard of the repeated guidance it had received from its parent body on the matter, and in denial of the established standards.

The vote in favor of IGLHRC means that the international LGBT human rights organization would now be able to participate more officially by attending meetings, submitting statements, and collaborating with the UN and governments on human rights in the international arena. The press release stated that IGLHRC, with a long history pushing for the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, advocated for sexual rights to be included in the official discussions at the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. In 2001, the organization spoke at the first UN General Assembly meeting on HIV and AIDS, and in recent years has been part of a collaboration between NGOs and supportive States that resulted in the groundbreaking 2008 UN General Assembly Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which was signed by 67 member states.

Toni Reis, president of the Brazilian LGBT group, Associação Brasileira de Lésbicas, Gays, Bissexuais, Travestis e Transexuais (ABGLT), which received consultative status in 2009, said, "We celebrate this decision. It is crucial that LGBT NGOs have the opportunity to participate in the UN human rights debate – though in future, organizations should receive full and fair reviews before the NGO Committee itself."

Broken out, the votes were as follows: In favor: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Malta, Norway, Peru, Poland, Rep. of Korea, Slovenia, United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay. Those against included Bangladesh, China, Comoros, Egypt, Malaysia, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Pakistan, Russian Fed., Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Zambia. Countries abstaining from the vote were Bahamas, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, India, Mauritius, Mongolia, Mozambique, Philippines, Rep. of Moldova, Rwanda, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Turkey, and Ukraine. The five countries that were absent for the vote included Cameroon, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, and Saint Lucia.