With consensual, same-sex conduct a criminal offence in more than one-third of the world’s countries, the United Nations human rights office today launched its first global public education campaign to raise awareness and respect for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.
‘Free & Equal,’ a year-long effort by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and partners launched today in Cape Town, South Africa, focuses on the need for both legal reforms and public education to counter homophobia and transphobia.
Calling it an “unprecedented” initiative, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the campaign’s core messages: human rights are universal and we can change attitudes for the better.
“The Secretary-General has consistently called on world leaders to address violence against LGBT members of our human family,” his spokesperson said in a statement, adding that Mr. Ban is personally committed to championing this cause.
More than 76 countries criminalize consensual same-sex relationships, according to a 2011 OHCHR report on violence and discrimination against LGBT people. Penalties range from jail sentences to execution. Meanwhile, in many more countries discrimination in the workforce, education, health sectors and other areas of society is widespread, the UN reported.
Unveiling the new campaign, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stressed that such discrimination – sometimes leading to physical assault, sexual violence and targeted killings – is a violation of basic human rights.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights – no exceptions, no one left behind. Yet it’s still a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and discrimination on a daily basis.”Speaking alongside Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron of the South African Constitutional Court, Ms. Pillay added that changing attitudes is never easy but it is possible. “It begins with often difficult conversations. With this campaign, we want to help start millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.”
Also at the launch, a statement of support for the campaign was read out on behalf of renowned South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, who is also a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Roll Back Malaria Goodwill Ambassador.
A number of other celebrities have pledged their support for the Free & Equal campaign by spreading campaign messages and materials via social media, including pop star Ricky Martin, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly and Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury.
Over the next 12 months, the Free & Equal campaign will also release a variety of multimedia content, along the lines of “The Story of a Mother from Brazil,” the first in a series of filmed interviews with family members of LGBT people around the world, and “The Riddle,” a video by OHCHR for the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia which asks: What exists in every corner of the world but remains illegal in more than 70 countries? The answer: Being gay, being lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
The International Day, while not an officially observed UN day, was marked by the world body on 17 May, and included a call on Governments worldwide to protect the rights of LGBT individuals, and strike down laws that discriminate against them.
In 2011, 85 States signed a statement expressing their concern at human rights violations perpetrated against LGBT people, and the UN Human Rights Council adopted the first ever resolution to specifically address the issue.
Last year, OHCHR produced a guide to LGBT rights entitled ‘Born Free and Equal’ that sets out States’ core legal obligations.