United States Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice will announce later today that the United States will introduce an amendment in the General Assembly to prohibit the violent targeting of people based on their sexual orientation.
The move comes in response to an amendment last month at the General Assembly’s Third Committee on Extrajudicial, Summary, and Arbitrary Executions, which eliminated any mention of sexual orientation from a resolution condemning the extrajudicial killing of vulnerable people around the world. A coalition of conservative states, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, successfully blocked “sexual orientation” from being included among a list of fifteen groups that are particularly vulnerable to extrajudicial killings. Typically, “sexual orientation” would be included among other groups like religious minorities, refugees, members of indigenous communities, street children, etc. But not this time.
Today is Human Rights Day, so the symbolism of the timing of the announcement is particularly significant. And, of course, it comes one day after the defeat of a measure in the United States Senate that would have repealed the U.S Military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“We believe this new approach can correct the disappointing outcome of the third committee vote and, instead, ensure that member states of the UN send a strong message (as they have in the past) that individuals must not continue to be tortured and killed based on their sexual orientation,” says U.S. spokesperson at the UN Mark Kornblau.
The announcement will come during Ambassador Rice’s speech at an LGBT event for Human Rights Day, in the chamber of the UN’s Economic and Social Council. I’ll post the speech as soon as it is delivered. Check in with UN Webcast around 1 pm to see if the event will be broadcast live.
UPDATE: Here’s Amb. Rice’s remarks. This passage alone lets you know how far we have come in the last two years. Do read the whole speech.
First of all, I am particularly proud to say that the United States is the newest member of the LGBT Core Group here at the United Nations. That decision was long overdue, and it gives me great personal satisfaction to sit before you representing the United States today.
I’m also particularly proud that one of the very first decisions our new Administration made at the United Nations was to join the General Assembly’s Statement on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which condemns violence, harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This past July, the United States, working with other delegations, won NGO consultative status for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. That made it the first LGBT group from the United States to secure this status—and one of only a few LGBT groups worldwide. Some didn’t want to see LGBT rights recognized at the United Nations. But with others, we rolled up our sleeves and we got it done.
The State Department’s annual Human Rights Report now includes a section on how LGBT persons are treated in every country. And last summer, the State Department announced a new grant to provide emergency aid to some human rights defenders, either because they work on LGBT issues or because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender themselves.
Even as we work to support LGBT persons abroad, we are leading by example and pushing to ensure that their rights are fully realized here at home.
Last year, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which made it a federal crime to violently attack someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Law enforcement officials in this country now have the tools to respond to gay-bashing and related violent acts wherever they occur in the United States. And for the first time, the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” became part of U.S. law to provide explicit protection to LGBT individuals.
Last summer, President Obama issued a presidential memorandum extending, to the extent permissible under current law, federal benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of U.S. government employees. Secretary of State Clinton extended benefits for overseas State Department employees, and this act, I’m proud to say, has served as a model for similar changes for LGBT Americans working for the UN Secretariat.
The Administration renewed the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides lifesaving medical services and support to Americans living with HIV/AIDS. We’ve eliminated the discriminatory ban that kept people out of the United States based on their HIV status. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is opening core housing programs to all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. And President Obama has appointed more LGBT officials to his government than the previous two Administrations combined.
But we have got a great deal more work to do.
Around the world, laws that criminalize gay relationships don’t just violate human rights. They hinder social cohesion, economic development, and public health. They reduce trust and cooperation among nations. So the United States will work together with our fellow Core Group members to urge countries that still have such laws to repeal them. And I hope we will all work together to develop a sustained, serious plan of action to decriminalize homosexuality around this world that we share.
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. We fought hard for that reference when it came to a Committee vote, and we lost. But we’re not done yet. The resolution now goes to the full General Assembly. For countries that voted in the Committee to keep the reference to sexual orientation, we thank you. For countries that haven’t yet done so, we urge you to join us. And for countries that have supported this reference in the past but changed course this year, we urge you to stand again with us and with all vulnerable people around the world at risk of violence. We are going to fight to restore the reference to sexual orientation. We’re going to stand firm on this basic principle. And we intend to win.
At home, President Obama continues to support repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, so that committed gay couples can have the same rights and responsibilities as any married couple. We must protect the rights of all families by securing their adoption rights, ending employment discrimination, and ensuring that federal LGBT employees receive equal benefits.
And then, of course, there’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That law violates fundamental American principles of fairness, integrity, and equality—and President Obama remains fully committed to working with Congress to repeal it. Like the President, I was extremely disappointed that yesterday, yet another filibuster prevented the Senate from moving forward with the National Defense Authorization Act. That important legislation had the bipartisan support of a clear majority of Senators, but it was blocked by a minority of Senators. This erodes our security, as well as our principles. In this time of war and challenge, all brave and patriotic Americans who are gay or lesbian and want to serve in their country’s armed forces should be able to do so openly. We only weaken our national security and diminish our military readiness by depriving ourselves of the service of patriots determined to defend the country they love. 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.