The United States is joining human rights groups in hailing passage of a resolution by the U.N. Human Rights Council rejecting abuses against people because of their sexual orientation. The resolution, presented by South Africa, won narrow approval by the council in Geneva.
The Obama administration has made defense of gay rights a major agenda issue, and State Department officials say the resolution is a major step toward making the defense of such rights an international norm.
The U.N. Human Rights Council approved, by a vote of 23 to 19 with three abstentions, a South African text expressing grave concern about abuses suffered by people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The non-binding resolution commissioned a global report on discrimination against homosexuals and trans-gender persons.
Though the language was weaker than some delegates and advocacy groups had sought, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in written statement, welcomed it as a historic moment” to highlight the abuses that lesbian, gay and transgender - or LGBT - persons face around the world.
In a conference call from Geneva, the U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council, Eileen Donahoe, said the resolution transformed what had been an unspoken issue into a legitimate, mainstream human rights subject.
“It is now on the map as a legitimate topic for those concerned about human rights to be raising and reaffirming internationally. And we think this is game-changer in terms of changing the culture, at least at the Human Rights Council on the topic of protection for LGBT people. Prior to today, it was almost a taboo topic,” Donahoe said.
Supporters of the resolution in addition to the United States and South Africa, included European Union and Latin American countries.
Among those voting against were Russia and several Islamic and African states including Nigeria, which said the measure was contrary to the values of most Africans. Pakistan said the measure had nothing to do with fundamental rights.
According to Amnesty International, consensual same-sex relations are illegal in more than 70 countries. The United States recently publicly criticized draft legislation in Uganda, later softened, that would have made some homosexual acts a capital offense.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Suzanne Nossel told reporters Friday’s U.N. action will not mean the early lifting of such laws, but will affect international attitudes.
“This does raise the political price of repression and discrimination and violence. It puts a spotlight under it. It sends a message that the international community rejects it, that governments that condone and pursue those policies are outliers, that they’re are at odds with an international norm. It also puts in place reporting so that activists and victims of abuses have a place to turn,” he said.
The monitoring group Human Rights Watch called the Geneva resolution a ground-breaking achievement, and a bold step into territory previously considered off-limits.
The gay rights advocacy group ARC International said the measure breaks a silence that prevailed for far too long, and is an entry point for further U.N. debate.