Noting that over 70 countries still consider homosexuality a crime, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today appealed for its complete and universal decriminalization, stressing that human rights must always trump cultural attitudes and societal strictures.
In an event on sexual orientation at UN Headquarters in New York, held in conjunction with Human Rights Day, Mr. Ban deplored discrimination against homosexuals and the violence of which they are often victims, for which the perpetrators escape punishment.
“Together, we seek the repeal of laws that criminalize homosexuality, that permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, that encourage violence,” he said. “When individuals are attacked, abused or imprisoned because of their sexual orientation, we must speak out. We cannot stand by. We cannot be silent.
“This is all the more true in cases of violence. These are not merely assaults on individuals. They are attacks on all of us. They devastate families. They pit one group against another, dividing larger society. And when the perpetrators of violence escape without penalty, they make a mockery of the universal values we hold dear.”
Mr. Ban recognized that social attitudes run deep and social change often comes only with time, but he highlighted the collective responsibility to stand against discrimination, to defend fellow human beings and fundamental principles.
“Let there be no confusion: where there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, universal human rights must carry the day,” he said. “Personal disapproval, even society’s disapproval, is no excuse to arrest, detain, imprison, harass or torture anyone – ever.”
Mr. Ban noted that during his recent trips to Africa, he urged leaders to do away with laws criminalizing homosexuality. He was particularly pleased that in Malawi he was able to secure the release of a young gay couple sentenced to 14 years in prison, with President Bingu wa Mutharika freeing them on the very day he asked him to.
Last night Mr. Ban spoke to a Human Rights Day event at the Ford Foundation in New York called ‘Speak Up,’ at which one of his fellow speakers was a young activist from Uganda, Frank Mugisha, who has been working with a variety of civil society groups to stop legislation that institutionalizes discrimination against gay and lesbian people.
“With extraordinary eloquence, he appealed to us, the United Nations, for help,” Mr. Ban said today. “He asked us to rally support for the decriminalization of homosexuality everywhere in the world. And that is what we will do. We have been called upon, and we will answer.”
Pledging to “put myself on the line” in this struggle, he said he would continue to speak out, at every opportunity, wherever he goes. “I will do so because this is the right thing to do, because this cause is just,” he declared. “That is why this day, this very special day, means so much to me. Human Rights Day commemorates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“It is not called the partial declaration of human rights. It is not the sometimes declaration of human rights. It is the universal Declaration, guaranteeing all human beings their basic human rights – without exception. Violence will end only when we confront prejudice. Stigma and discrimination will end only when we agree to speak out. That requires all of us to do our part, to speak out – at home, at work, in our schools and communities – to stand in solidarity.”
At an event in Geneva today, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay echoed Mr. Ban’s appeal, underscoring the need to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through legislative reform and education initiatives.