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Signatories to the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity are colored in green and signatories to the opposing statement in red.
UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity
Date Read December 18, 2008
Location United Nations General Assembly, New York City, New York, United States
Result Still open for signatures, yet to be adopted as a resolution (text)
 European Union (27)
 Arab League (22)

The proposed United Nations declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity is a French-initiated, European Union-backed statement presented to the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 2008. The statement, originally intended to be adopted as resolution, prompted an Arab League-backed statement opposing it. Both statements remain open for signatures and none of them has been officially adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

The proposed declaration includes a condemnation of violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also includes condemnation of killings and executions, torture, arbitrary arrest, and deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights on those grounds.

The proposed declaration was praised as a breakthrough for human rights, breaking the taboo against speaking about LGBT rights in the United Nations. Opponents criticized it as an attempt to legitimize same-sex civil partnerships or marriage, adoption by same sex couples, pedophilia and other "deplorable acts"[1] and curtail freedom of religious expression against homosexual behavior.



     No information
Homosexuality legal      Same-sex marriage1      Other type of partnership (or unregistered cohabitation)      Foreign same-sex marriages recognized      No recognition of same-sex couples
Homosexuality illegal      Minimal penalty      Large penalty      Life in prison      Death penalty

1 DC (subject to Congressional review) and Mexico City same-sex marriage laws are effective from 1 March and 4 March 2010, respectively.

As of December 2008, homosexuality is illegal in 77 countries and punishable by death in seven.[2] In its 1994 decision in Toonen v. Australia, The UN Human Rights Committee, which is responsible for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), declared that such laws are in violation of human rights law.[3]

In 2003 a number of predominantly European countries put forward the Brazilian Resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission stating the intention that lesbian and gay rights be considered as fundamental as the rights of all human beings.

In 2006, with the effort of its founder, Louis George Tin, International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) launched a worldwide campaign to end the criminalisation of same-sex relationships. The campaign was supported by dozens of international public figures including Nobel laureates, academics, clergy and celebrities.

In 2008, the 34 member countries of the Organization of American States unanimously approved a declaration affirming that human rights protections extend to sexual orientation and gender identity.[3]

Following meetings between Tin and French Minister of Human Rights and Foreign Affairs Rama Yade in early 2008, Yade announced that she would appeal at the UN for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality; the appeal was quickly taken up as an international concern.[4]

Co-sponsored by France, which then held the rotating presidency of the European Union, and The Netherlands on behalf of the European Union, the declaration had been intended as a resolution; it was decided to use the format of a declaration of a limited group of States because there was not enough support for the adoption of an official resolution by the General Assembly as a whole. The declaration was read out by Ambassador Jorge Argüello of Argentina on 18 December 2008, and was the first declaration concerning gay rights read in the General Assembly.[1][5]


Several speakers addressing a conference on the declaration noted that in many countries laws against homosexuality stemmed as much from the British colonial past as from religion or tradition.[1]

Voicing France's support for the draft declaration, Rama Yade asked: "How can we tolerate the fact that people are stoned, hanged, decapitated and tortured only because of their sexual orientation?"[1]

UK-based activist Peter Tatchell said of the declaration:

"This was history in the making… Securing this statement at the UN is the result of an inspiring collective global effort by many LGBT and human rights organisations. Our collaboration, unity and solidarity have won us this success. As well as IDAHO, I pay tribute to the contribution and lobbying of Amnesty International; ARC International; Center for Women's Global Leadership; COC Netherlands; Global Rights; Human Rights Watch; International Committee for IDAHO (the International Day Against Homophobia); International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC); International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA); International Service for Human Rights; Pan Africa ILGA; and Public Services International."[6]


67 of the United Nations' 192 member countries have sponsored the declaration, including every member of the European Union* and most Western nations:[4][7]


Among the first to voice opposition for the declaration, in early December, 2008, was the Holy See's Permanent Observer at the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, who claimed that the declaration could be used to force countries to recognise same-sex marriage:[9]

"If adopted, they would create new and implacable discriminations. For example, states which do not recognise same-sex unions as 'matrimony' will be pilloried and made an object of pressure."[9]

A key part of the Vatican opposition to the draft Declaration relates to the concept of gender identity. In a statement on 19 December,[10] Archbishop Migliore noted:

"In particular, the categories 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity', used in the text, find no recognition or clear and agreed definition in international law. If they had to be taken into consideration in the proclaiming and implementing of fundamental rights, these would create serious uncertainty in the law as well as undermine the ability of States to enter into and enforce new and existing human rights conventions and standards."[10]

However, Archbishop Migliore also made clear the Vatican's opposition to legal discrimination against homosexuals: "The Holy See continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges States to do away with criminal penalties against them."[10]

In an editorial response, Italy's La Stampa newspaper called the Vatican’s reasoning "grotesque", claiming that the Vatican feared a "chain reaction in favour of legally recognised homosexual unions in countries, like Italy, where there is currently no legislation."[11]

The United States, citing conflicts with US law,[2] originally opposed the adoption of the nonbinding measure, as did Russia, China, the Holy See, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.[1] The Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission issued a statement saying that the draft declaration "challenges existing human rights norms."[10] The Obama administration changed the US position to support the measure in February 2009.[12]

An alternative statement, supported by 57 member nations, was read by the Syrian representative in the General Assembly. The statement, led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, rejected the idea that sexual orientation is a matter of genetic coding and claimed that the declaration threatened to undermine the international framework of human rights,[1] adding that the statement "delves into matters which fall essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of states" and could lead to "the social normalization, and possibly the legitimization, of many deplorable acts including pedophilia."[2] The Organization failed in a related attempt to delete the phrase "sexual orientation" from a Swedish-backed formal resolution condemning summary executions.[1]


57 UN member nations have co-sponsored the opposing statement:[13]

Text of the draft declaration


  1. We reaffirm the principle of universality of human rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whose 60th anniversary is celebrated this year, Article 1 of which proclaims that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights";
  2. We reaffirm that everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of human rights without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, as set out in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 2 of the International Covenants on Civil and Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as in article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  3. We reaffirm the principle of non-discrimination which requires that human rights apply equally to every human being regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity;
  4. We are deeply concerned by violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms based on sexual orientation or gender identity;
  5. We are also disturbed that violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation and prejudice are directed against persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or gender identity, and that these practices undermine the integrity and dignity of those subjected to these abuses;
  6. We condemn the human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity wherever they occur, in particular the use of the death penalty on this ground, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the practice of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary arrest or detention and deprivation of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health;
  7. We recall the statement in 2006 before the Human Rights Council by fifty four countries requesting the President of the Council to provide an opportunity, at an appropriate future session of the Council, for discussing these violations;
  8. We commend the attention paid to these issues by special procedures of the Human Rights Council and treaty bodies and encourage them to continue to integrate consideration of human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity within their relevant mandates;
  9. We welcome the adoption of Resolution AG/RES. 2435 (XXXVIII-O/08) on "Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity" by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States during its 38th session in 3 June 2008;
  10. We call upon all States and relevant international human rights mechanisms to commit to promote and protect human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity;
  11. We urge States to take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention.
  12. We urge States to ensure that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are investigated and perpetrators held accountable and brought to justice;
  13. We urge States to ensure adequate protection of human rights defenders, and remove obstacles which prevent them from carrying out their work on issues of human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g MacFarquhar, Neil (18 December 2008). "In a First, Gay Rights Are Pressed at the U.N.". New York Times. Retrieved 20 December 2008.  
  2. ^ a b c "UN divided over gay rights declaration". Reuters. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-19-12.  
  3. ^ a b Amnesty International (12 December 2008). "United Nations: General assembly to address sexual orientation and gender identity - Statement affirms promise of Universal Declaration of Human Rights". Press release. Retrieved 20 March 2009.  
  4. ^ a b Amnesty International (12 December 2008). "UN: General Assembly statement affirms rights for all". Press release. Retrieved 20 March 2009.  
  5. ^ "UN General Assembly press report". 18 Dec 2008.  
  6. ^ Tatchell, Peter (18 December 2008). "66 countries sign UN gay rights statement". Retrieved 20 March 2009.  
  7. ^ In turnaround, US signs UN gay rights document. Reuters. March 18, 2009
  8. ^ Signed as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"
  9. ^ a b "Vatican criticised for opposing gay decriminalisation". The Irish Times. 2 December 2008. Retrieved 20 March 2009.  
  10. ^ a b c d Holy See (18 December 2008). "Statement of the Holy See Delegation at the 63rd Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on the Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity". Press release. Retrieved 20 March 2009.  
  11. ^ Pullella, Philip; Reuters (2 December 2008). "Vatican attacked for opposing gay decriminalisation". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 20 March 2009.  
  12. ^ Pleming, Sue (18 March 2009). "In turnaround, U.S. signs U.N. gay rights document". Reuters. Retrieved 20 March 2009.  
  13. ^ "General Assembly: 70th and 71st plenary meeting, morning session, 02:32:00". United Nations. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 6 January 2008.  
  14. ^

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