The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is not the first group advocating to end discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity to win the right to be represented in major United Nations and other meetings – and to have to fight hard for that privilege. But after years of futile campaigning against a front of homophobic nations, otherwise skittish governments and the Vatican, IGLHRC last week found its most powerful ally in the Obama administration.
The US-based organization with a wide network of global partners was able to thwart the usual tactic of having its application put on indefinite hold in an accreditation committee when the US Mission to the UN forced an open vote on IGLHRC’s application pending in the full Economic and Social Council, a bold move that could be a model for dealing with other stalemated human rights issues at the UN.
After eight years of Bush administration alliances with anti-gay (and anti-women’s rights) forces at the UN, the Obama team has served notice that it is not only a supporter of gay advocacy groups but is also not afraid of a showdown on rights issues generally. The Human Rights Council should take note. It often takes American leadership to rally like-minded nations that may falter in their resolve.
Twenty-two countries voted with the US in the 54-member Economic and Social Council, among them Brazil, Britain, Canada, Germany and Japan. Among the 13 nations voting against admitting IGLHRC were China, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Most of them dodged the human rights issue and argued that proper procedures had not been followed – i.e., that the application should have effectively been left to molder in the accreditation committee. Russia, perhaps a surprising member of the "no" list, took that position. Thirteen countries abstained. President Obama was quick to welcome the vote on July 19 that gave IGLHRC what the UN calls "consultative status," which will entitle it to participate in numerous events and hold passes to UN headquarters in New York and other meeting places. IGLHRC will join nine other organizations – out of several thousand accredited to the UN – devoted to LGBT rights. "I welcome this important step forward for human rights, as the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission will take its rightful seat at the table of the United Nations," the president said in a statement after the vote (scrambling the organization’s name). "The UN was founded on the premise that only through mutual respect, diversity, and dialogue can the international community effectively pursues justice and equality. Today, with the more full inclusion of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission, the United Nations is closer to the ideals on which it was founded, and to values of inclusion and equality to which the United States is deeply committed." A forceful argument for IGLHRC’s accreditation was made by Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, the deputy US envoy to the UN, who mentioned, among other things, that IGLHRC had been a leader in work on HIV-AIDS, for which it had been praised by UN agencies. She then cited chapter and verse from UN resolutions that would indicate the group had met the necessary criteria. She also noted that the tactic of stymieing applications in committee had been challenged numerous times, most recently when a Brazilian gay advocacy organization was admitted last year. "One might ask then why some delegations continue to insist that after having answered 44 questions over three sessions of the NGO Committee, and appearing in person on two occasions, the IGLHRC should wait even longer to have its application for consultative status approved," she said.
"These delegations claim that they called for a no action motion during the May session of the NGO Committee based on purely procedural considerations that had nothing to do with the IGLHRC’s support for LGBT rights," DiCarlo went on. "We all know this is disingenuous. We all know the real reason. The NGO Committee has refused to grant consultative status to any LGBT NGO for more than a decade." More irrefutable references to UN procedure and precedent followed to hammer the point before diCarlo concluded: "The great diversity of voices heard at the United Nations is one of its underlying strengths as an institution. The members of this Council–including the United States– may not always agree with the views expressed by the 3,200 NGOs which currently enjoy consultative status, but collectively they play a vital role in promoting peace, security, sustainable development, and human rights."