By Julie Bolcer -
On Human Rights Day, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, announced that the U.S. would “fight to restore” the LGBT protections stricken from a draft General Assembly resolution on summary, extrajudicial, or arbitrary executions last month.
Rice spoke Friday afternoon at a High-level Panel on “Ending Violence and Criminal Sanctions on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” which also included opening remarks by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and speeches from activists on the frontlines of the battle for LGBT human rights.
“Here at the United Nations, like many of you, I was incensed by the recent vote in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which eliminated any mention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals from a resolution condemning extrajudicial killing of vulnerable people around the world,” said Rice.
Last month, the Third Committee on social, humanitarian and cultural issues voted 79-70, with 17 abstentions and 26 absences, for an amendment to remove the reference to “sexual orientation” from the draft resolution on discriminatory executions. Although the resolution has mentioned sexual orientation for the past 10 years, this year Benin, on behalf of the African Group in the General Assembly, introduced an amendment arguing that the inclusion lacked legal justification. The amended resolution passed by a vote of 165-0, with 10 abstentions including the United States.
On Friday, Ambassador Rice vowed to work to restore the language regarding sexual orientation when the full General Assembly votes on the resolution December 20.
“We’re going to fight to restore the reference to sexual orientation,” she said. “We’re going to stand firm on this basic principle, and we intend to win.”
Human rights activists and organizations including the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, one of few LGBT NGOs to hold consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council, decried the draft resolution when it passed last month. IGLHRC said it could provide a legal loophole for countries such as Uganda, where a bill that would impose the death penalty for homosexuality is pending in parliament.
Glenda Muzenda, a South African human rights advocate studying at Columbia University, told The Advocate that resolution would exacerbate the homophobic climate in her country, where lesbians face the well documented threats of “corrective rapes” and murder. Just days ago, the burnt remains of a 21-year-old woman believed to be Ncumisa Mzamelo were found in an unused toilet in Kwazulu Natal province.
“As someone from South Africa, and as a lesbian, this resolution is a green light to kill lesbians,” she said.
In a telephone interview following the Friday address, a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations said the American effort to restore the protections for sexual orientation would take the form of a new amendment to the resolution.
“We’re going to introduce an amendment that will put the language back in,” said Mark Kornblau. “We are going to be mounting a vigorous effort here over the next week or ten days to persuade other countries to join us. It is going to be a difficult effort, but we are hopeful that we can get this passed.”
During her speech Friday, Ambassador Rice listed progress toward LGBT equality in the United States under the Obama administration including passage of the Matthew Shepard Act on hate crimes and the presidential memorandum to extend federal benefits to the extent possible to same-sex domestic partners of U.S. government employees. She also mentioned unfinished business including repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, securing adoption rights and ending employment discrimination.
“And then, of course, there’s “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said the ambassador to the audience in the ECOSOC chamber. “That law violates fundamental American principles of fairness, integrity, and equality—and President Obama remains fully committed to working with Congress to repeal it.”
Ambassador Rice spoke one day after the latest attempt to advance repeal of the military ban stalled in the Senate.
”Yesterday’s disappointing vote is by no means the end of our efforts, and our Administration is urging the Senate to revisit this important issue during the ongoing lame-duck session. President Obama strongly believes that it’s time for this discriminatory policy to finally end,” she said.