Posted by: ajtzotzo | April 11, 2011

Human Rights Council 16th Session

By Anne Poulos

Last month the 16th session of the UN Human Rights Council was held in Geneva and while the Council ran through the laborious task of  reporting, debating, engaging in interactive dialogue and attempting not to be distracted by Barcelo’s controversial decorative ceiling, numerous side events were hosted by NGO’s and Permanent Missions. These events added some flavour to what can otherwise be a very dry event.

One such side event, organised by ARC International and co-sponsored by the ICJ and other NGO’s, dealt with sexual orientation and gender identity related human rights violations and violence. The event was very successful (though admittedly most attendee’s were already sympathetic to the subject matter) and it was very moving. The speakers were all fascinating but the most impressive of all was Kasha Jacqueline, one of the three Ugandans (including David Kato) who brought the Ugandan ‘Rolling Stone’ (no not the beloved music magazine) newspaper case. The paper had published articles with images of Ugandans it named as homosexual next to the words “hang them”. Jacqueline, Kato and another successfully sought a court order compelling the newspaper to cease publishing such material.

Kato was murdered in suspicious circumstances a short time before the side event and Jacqueline spoke very articulately and powerfully about his murder and the events at his funeral where the priest denounced homosexuality and refused to lay him to rest. It revealed the climate of hostility and persecution faced by those who are, or are suspected to be, gay in Uganda and it left the room in a drawn silence.

Patrick Eba from UNAIDS spoke about the interrelation of SOGI issues and the fight against AIDS. John Fisher from ARC was also very impressive in discussing the challenges of preventing human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity internationally and domestically through a variety of mechanisms.

While side events such as this carried on other activities were also taking place. In a significant step a core group of states, with NGO involvement, were pushing very hard to get signatures on a joint statement regarding “ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation & gender identity”. Two weeks prior to the side event there were about 60 state signatures confirmed on the statement, then after much effort the number was increased to 80, surprisingly with a number of African states signing on. The core group worked very hard to draw in an unprecedented level of support for a SOGI related statement and when the statement (The text of the which can be viewed here) was finally delivered to the human rights council on Tuesday the 22nd of March there were 85 state signatories.

The Human Rights Council is an important body and can be an excellent forum for highlighting human rights issues, but I have to say that there is something very depressing about the atmosphere within the HRC sessions. Observing the council allowed me to developed a more nuanced understanding of how the UN operates on a political level and how the UN system is so at the mercy of the politicking of States.

For instance I attended the Universal Periodic Review for Malawi and had the displeasure of hearing the Zimbabwean praise Malawi’s government for its human rights record. Another thing I have discovered, particularly through watching the preparations for the joint statement, is just how important domestic and international NGO’s are for bringing issues to the surface and pushing for State accountability.

The real progress occurs outside the Room XX where the HRC sits.


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