The U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (Part 3)

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By Jane Adolphe

ROME, DEC. 6, 2012 ( The Panel Discussion on the UNHCHR Report required by HRC Resolution 17/19 was held on 7 March 2012 during the 19thSession of the HRC. While the dialogue was to be transparent and open, the head of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN in Genevanoted:  “It was evident, however, many States and organizations promoting the Panel Discussion also had an agenda to advocate for “special rights”… Some States, in fact, insisted that all speakers …follow the same ideological line and refused suggestions, proposed by other States, to include panellists who held divergent view concerning efforts to promote “new rights”. (Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See,  Preserving the Universality of Human Rights, Libreria  Editrice Vaticana, 2012, 9).  

The panellists riddled the participants with the following terms and expressions but offered no definitions or clarifications: “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” “homophobia,” “homophobic attitudes” “negative social attitudes towards LGBT people,” “negative stereotyping,” “discriminatory attitudes,” “hate speech,” “bias-motivated violence against LGBT”, and “anti-LGBT bias.” 

In addition, the panellists expressed concerns going well beyond stopping violence and discrimination against all persons to promoting the following issues: “decriminalization of consensual same-sex relationships” (this phrase forgot to include the word “adult” before same-sex relationships, I think); “anti-discrimination legislation,” “training, sensitization and public anti-homophobia campaigns,” “recognition of same-sex relations” (including same sex marriage and same-sex adoption), “gender recognition” (redefines gender, which refers to male and female or women and men, to include transgender persons).

According to official Summary of the event, “a number of States signalled their opposition to any discussion of [SO] and [GI] by leaving the Council chamber at the start of the meeting.” A number who remained, “voiced their opposition on cultural or religious grounds or argued that [SO] and [GI] were new concepts that law outside the framework of international human Rights law….Some delegations argued “that concepts of [SO] and [GI] had no foundation in international human rights law because they had not been sufficiently well defined and were not mentioned in any international human rights instruments.” Consequently, States could not be compelled to recognize SO and GI as a prohibited grounds for discrimination, since this would threaten principles of universality, cultural pluralism and common ownership of international human rights law. Others argued that national and religious particularities had to be raised in the context of any discussion of human rights since homosexual acts were against the teachings of world religions, as well as cultural and traditional values of many communities (Human Rights Council Panel Discussion on SO and GI, Summary of Discussion 7 March 2012, Geneva, para. 11, 19-22 respectively).

It should be noted that the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See held a parallel event two days later on 9 March 2012 called “Preserving the Universality of Human Rights: in the context of discussions on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at the United Nations.” It “convened 150 participants including representations from 30 Permanent Missions to the UN in Geneva” (Preserving the Universality of Human Rights, 10). There was a panel of experts, then a lively discussion,  followed by responses from the panellists, and distribution of non-papers to encourage full debate. The consensus reached by the panellists was that no human person should be subject to violence or discrimination. However, what was needed was the implementation, at the local level, of existing international obligations. “New rights” were not necessary and could result in a “deterioration of the universality of human rights and pose a risk to time-honoured and recognized protection of marriage between husband and wife, the natural family, and freedom of conscience and religion.”(Id., 10)   

Part 4 will be published on Friday, December 7th.


Jane Adolphe is the Associate Professor of Law at  Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida.

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