Much has been made of the Declaration on Human Rights and Sexual Orientation, which was tabled on December 18, 2008 at the United Nations. This declaration, which was sponsored by France, had the support of approximately 65 countries, including western and eastern European states, Latin America, the Central African Republic and Cuba.
Essentially, the declaration, a non-binding document, sought to expand the existing human rights concept to include ‘sexual orientation’. What is less known is that a counter-declaration sponsored by Egypt and Uganda and supported by approximately 60 countries was presented to the United Nations at the same time. Support came from the Islamic countries, many African countries and St Lucia.
This declaration expressed serious concern at the “attempt to introduce to the United Nations, notions that have no legal foundation in any international human rights instrument”.
Reference was made in the counter-declaration to Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the right of member states to enact laws that meet “the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society”.
Concern was also expressed over “the attempts to create ‘new rights’ or ‘new standards’ by misinterpreting the Universal Declaration and international treaties to include such notions that were never articulated nor agreed by the general membership”.
Along with these 60 or so countries, Russia, Belarus and the Holy See also made statements critical to the French-led declaration.
To the best of the writer’s knowledge, neither Jamaica, Singapore nor China signed either declaration, but one would expect in the event of a vote that they, too, would oppose the French declaration. What is clear is that there is currently no consensus within the United Nations on the matter of including ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as ‘human rights’. Celebrations are therefore somewhat premature.
The matter is a very contentious one which, if pursued, may very well harm the discourse and the implementation of those aspects of the human rights agenda which are universally accepted.
What is also of note is the very sly manner in which the French-led declaration uses the terms ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ interchangeably. In commenting on this interchange of terms, Dr Susan Yoshihara, of Catholic
Family and Human Rights Institute (New York) in her unpublished briefing paper, ‘Nine problems with the EU’s UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation’, commented as follows:
” … the deliberate confusion in the declaration of the terms ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender’ would have implications for UN funding and reform, since plans are now well-advanced for a new “gender architecture.”
According to Dr Yoshihara, plans are afoot to create a powerful gender office at the UN. This would be achieved by merging existing mechanisms to “form building blocks for the establishment of a Centre for Women Empowerment and Gender Equality”. Dr Nafis Sadik, special advisor to the UN Secretary-General, has said that this office will act as ‘a system watchdog’ with the authority to set standards, enforce accountability, and intervene at all levels of decision-making from country to international.
As we commence 2009 with the intense struggle for survival that it promises to be, we must be vigilant and conscious of this aggressive threat to those good, tested and true values which we still cherish.