Anti-gay Sentiment Arises During the U.N. General Assembly

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. UN Photo/Lou Rouse

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. UN Photo/Lou Rouse

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights during a High-Level Core Group event on Sep. 29, noting his experiences in working with governments to eliminate LGBTI-discriminatory policies.

“Sometimes I am successful and other times I am not but I will continue to fight until all LGBT people can live freely without suffering any intimidation or discrimination,” Ban said.

The politically-sensitive issue also came up during the high-level segment of the General Assembly, when President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe highlighted the need to respect and uphold human rights while rejecting LGBTI rights.

Speaking during the 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly, he pointedly said: “We…reject attempts to prescribe ‘new rights’ that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions and beliefs.”

“We are not gays,” Mugabe continued.

The statement was met with some laughter and little applause during the General Assembly session whose theme is the “United Nations at 70: The road ahead for peace, security, and human rights.”

Mugabe’s rejection of rights for the LGBTI community remains in line with the country’s policies.

In Zimbabwe, those found guilty of performing any homosexual acts can be imprisoned or fined. For instance, in 2006, the government made it a criminal offence for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss.

President Mugabe has been vocal about the country’s anti-LGBT stance, describing LGBTI individuals as “worse than pigs, goats and birds” during a rally on July 23, 2013.

The government of Saudi Arabia also rejected any references to homosexuality during the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit Sep. 25 to 27.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told world leaders that “mentioning sex in the text, to us, means exactly male and female. Mentioning family means consisting of a married man and woman.”

Similar reservations regarding LGBTI rights were expressed by several member States during the creation of the SDGs.

For instance, in the report of the Open Working Group on SDGs, Cameroon rejected any policies or reporting for SDG 5.6, which “will include or tend to include, explicitly or implicitly, the concepts of sexual orientation, gender identity, same-sex couples.”

Target 5.6 states the need to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, and to ensure reproductive rights.

As a result, Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning Amina Mohammed publicly declared last year that gay rights were “off the table” in the SDG agenda.

The SDGs currently make no mention of sexual orientation or LGBT rights.

However, a joint statement released on Sep. 29 by 12 U.N. entities including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has called on States to end violence and discrimination against the LGBTI community.

“International human rights law establishes legal obligations on States to ensure that every person, without distinction, can enjoy these rights,” the statement says.

U.N. agencies specifically urge governments to repeal discriminatory laws, strengthen efforts to prevent, monitor and report violence against LGBTI individuals, and ensure the inclusion of LGBTI individuals in development.

“Failure to uphold the human rights of LGBTI people and protect them…constitute serious violations of international human rights law and have a far-reaching impact on society…and progress towards achievement of the future Sustainable Development Goals,” declared the U.N. agencies.

In Zimbabwe, anti-gay legislation had already hindered LGBTI-related efforts including the eradication of HIV/AIDS under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Zimbabwe has one of the largest HIV rates in the world, with an estimated 15 percent of residents living with HIV.
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Opinion: The Party’s Over for U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals

Adriano Campolina, is Chief Executive of ActionAid International

By Adriano Campolina
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

The Pope has left the U.N. and the traffic in Manhattan is back to normal. The hoard of government delegations, NGOs and civil society representatives are packing up and the press is moving on. The party’s over for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Adriano Campolina

Adriano Campolina

Last week member states of the U.N. agreed goals, which set to end extreme poverty, fight against inequality and fix climate change. The Sustainable Development goals cover almost every aspect of poverty and are targets for every country around the world – developed and developing alike.

For such ambitious goals to be achieved, leaders will need to turn their promises on inequality into policies that will deliver real change. One day after the deal was done, I had a glimpse of how hard it will be to convince the world’s leaders. Attending a meeting on growth as part of the official SDG agenda, I was surprised the narrative of free trade and mega-investments continued to flow unbounded from governments.

Despite having a goal dedicated to ending inequality, the language of false market-based solutions continues – the same solutions which for years have locked people into low paid employment, divested money from public services and helped drive up inequality in almost all countries. The consequences of bad investments on people and the environment – causing environmental degradation, evictions and land grabbing – were blatantly ignored.

But here lies the catch. Corporations are not just stalking the corridors of the U.N. and promoting investments damaging to the poor, they also have a stranglehold on how countries raise tax, which will enable them to pay for the goals.

ActionAid research last month discovered tax incentives given to big corporations in West Africa drain the region of an estimated 9.6 billion dollars a year – money which could be spent on health and education. And globally it is estimated that developing countries lose over 200 billion dollars a year from corporate tax dodging. Yet rich countries continue to block moves for a global body on tax to make the rules fairer.

The 800 million people in poverty worldwide need change. In many ways, people are ahead of the U.N. as they’re doing it without flashy launch events or concerts. Across Africa, people have been mobilised and fought for the right to free primary school education, with massive wins.

And in my native Brazil, women without access to land have organised themselves, taken on brutal landlords and won the right to farm the land. Leaders are acknowledging the idea of inequality but poor people around the world are not just recognising it, they are wrenching it from its roots and organising themselves to build something new.

To achieve real change for poor people, the business as usual approach I saw at the U.N. over the last few days won’t be good enough. The climate conference in Paris in December will be the first test. If world leaders do not commit to emissions cuts and agree to financing to help developing countries with climate impacts, then success for the goals will be off to a very shaky start.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.