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Muslim Fundamentalists, Vatican, Unite to Block UN Vote On Gay Rights

by Gustavo Capdevila

Vatican also pressured Latin American states
(IPS) GENEVA -- Homosexual men and women will have to wait at least one more year for the first-ever formal recognition of their human rights in official United Nations documents.

A coalition of Islamic nations, with the support of other countries apparently under pressure from the Vatican, blocked approval in the UN Commission on Human Rights this week of a resolution sponsored by Brazil calling for guarantees to protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals.

Friday, as it wrapped up its annual sessions, the Geneva-based Commission, the maximum human rights authority at the UN, put off debate on the text until next year.

The amendments presented by five Muslim states -- Egypt, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- aimed at watering down the resolution met the same fate, though they did achieve their goal of blocking discussion of the Brazilian text.

Pakistan sought to annul the resolution Thursday, stating that the text "did not reflect Islamic values."

Independent human rights organizations say the failure of the Brazilian initiative to be decided this week is largely due to the "bias" of the Commission's chairwoman, Libyan diplomat Najat El Mehdi Al-Hajjaji.

The proposed amendments seek to remove all mention of discrimination based on sexual orientation, rendering the resolution meaningless, complained rights activists.

Brazil's draft resolution expresses "deep concern at the occurrence of violations of human rights in the world against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation."

The text "calls upon all states to promote and protect the human rights of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation" and states that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights must "pay due attention to the phenomenon of violations of human rights on the grounds of sexual orientation."

The rights of homosexual, bisexual or transsexual men and women have never been officially recognized by the United Nations, despite the fact that international laws on the issue began to emerge at the close of WWII, noted Canadian jurist Douglas Sanders.

And no homosexual organization to date has obtained "consultative status," which the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) grants certain non-governmental organizations, said Sanders, professor at the University of British Columbia.

"Millions of people across the globe face imprisonment, torture, violence, and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," Melinda Ching, spokeswoman for the London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International, reiterated during Commission sessions this week.

In Egypt, for example, 21 men were sentenced to three years in prison after being caught up in a wave of arrests and trials of individuals singled out as gay, said Ching.

"Adoption of the resolution is the only way to end the intolerable exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people from the full protection of the UN system," states an Amnesty International communiquŽ.

The draft resolution tabled by Brazil, and co-sponsored by 19 European nations, warns the 53-member UN Commission that an underlying factor of many human rights violations committed around the world is intolerance of the sexual orientation of the victims.

Brazil's diplomatic team has maintained a consistent stance on this issue for several years, says Brasilia's representative in Geneva, Luis Felipe de Seixas Correa. He noted that his country had presented a homosexual rights initiative at the World Conference against Racism, held in 2001 in the South African city of Durban.

Seixas Correa criticized the Commission Friday, saying the UN body was created to erase taboos, not to maintain them. He said Brazil's Foreign Ministry would keep up pressure to ensure that the resolution passes next year.

Debate on the draft resolution was rocky, a result of the procedural obstacles set up by the Muslim states, "in a manoeuvre to block discussion" or postpone it, commented Morris Tidball, director of the International Service for Human Rights.

Al-Hajjaji, in the final days of the six-week sessions, did not act with the impartiality that was expected, apparently to ingratiate herself with the countries or blocs of nations that had supported her, commented Tidball.

Loubna Freih, of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), agreed that Al-Hajjaji acted with bias, alleging that she used the power of the Commission chair to support the plans of Libya and allied countries.

In the last two days of the UN Commission's sessions, which ended Friday, the chairwoman proved reticent to facilitate debate on human rights and sexual orientation, said the HRW activist.

During Friday's sessions, the five Muslim countries tried to block debate through procedural tactics, and Al-Hajjaji finally proposed that the resolution be put off until the Commission's next period of sessions, in 2004.

The chairwoman's proposal was approved by a vote of 24 in favor, 17 against and 10 abstentions. Among the votes in favor were Muslim nations, as well as Argentina, China and India.

Voting against were Brazil, the European nations -- with the exception of Ireland, which is strongly Catholic and chose to abstain -- as did the Latin American countries Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

Tidball commented that in addition to the Islamic support, the vote results clearly show the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, which, like Islam, rejects homosexuality.

He said the Vatican had exerted pressure to halt what was originally unconditional support from Latin American countries for the Brazilian initiative.

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Albion Monitor April 26, 2003 (

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