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Monday, December 13, 2010

U.N., U.S. Officials Call for Gay Rights

Ban Ki-Moon and Susan Rice Call for End to Laws Around the World That Criminalize Homosexuality, Marking Human Rights Day

(AP)  U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called for an end to laws around the world that criminalize homosexuality, stressing the need to pay more urgent attention to gay and gender identity rights on Friday as the world marked Human Rights Day.

"Today, many nations have modern constitutions that guarantee essential rights and liberties. And yet, homosexuality is considered a crime in more than 70 countries," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "That is not right."

Ban said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948, "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."

The U.N. chief said that during recent trips to Africa he urged leaders to do away with laws criminalizing homosexuality, and that in Malawi he was able to help secure the release of a young gay couple sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu also spoke by teleconference to the high-level gathering organized at U.N. headquarters by advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, comparing their struggle to the fight for an end to apartheid in his native South Africa.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice echoed Ban's remarks, and said that the United Nations must send a strong message that people should not be tortured and killed because they are gay.

Rice said she was "incensed" by a recent vote in a General Assembly committee that left out any mention of sexual orientation from a resolution condemning the extrajudicial killing of vulnerable people worldwide. Previous resolutions had included the mention.

The American ambassador said that the United States will sponsor a U.N. amendment to restore the reference to killings based on sexual orientation. "We're going to stand firm on this basic principle," she said.

Rights groups welcomed Rice's announcement, and called on all U.N. member states to support the amendment.

"Words do have a meaning at the U.N.," said Boris Dittrich of Human Rights Watch. "Reintroducing the reference to sexual orientation in the resolution could help put an end to the hateful killing of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity."

Rice also said that she, like President Obama, "was extremely disappointed" on Thursday when Senate Republicans failed to repeal the U.S. military's 17-year-old ban on openly gay military troops.

The Senate's 57-40 test vote fell three votes short of the 60 needed to advance. Included in a broader defense policy bill, the measure to eliminate the so-called "don't ask, don't tell policy" passed the House last spring.

"That law violates fundamental American principles of fairness, integrity, and equality," said Rice. "We only weaken our national security and diminish our military readiness by depriving ourselves of the service of patriots determined to defend the country they love."

"Today as we celebrate the birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we must recall that its drafters insisted that it be truly universal," said Rice. "We must all do our part, here at the United Nations and in our own countries, to ensure that no gay man need fear persecution, that no lesbian need fear discrimination, and that no transgender person need fear assault."


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