UNHRC: Iran, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka Face Rights Crises

Council Holds Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The Human Rights Council this afternoon heard of a worsening human rights landscape in Iran, a steady deterioration of the overall human rights situation in Nicaragua, and that the economic crisis in Sri Lanka continued to have a severe impact on the rights and well-being of many Sri Lankans. The Council also held an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity on his report about the intersections between the right to freedom of religion or belief and the right to be free from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented to the Council the report of the Secretary-General on Iran and oral updates by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Nicaragua and Sri Lanka.

Ms. Al-Nashif said that over the past year, Iran continued to engage with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and United Nations human rights mechanisms, including on the issue of the death penalty. However, substantive engagement on the State’s obligations under international law remained limited, as was the implementation of recommendations from international human rights mechanisms. The overall human rights situation in Iran had markedly deteriorated against the backdrop of continuously worsening socio-economic conditions, aggravated by sanctions and the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the report showed a worsening human rights landscape in Iran, coupled with the chronic lack of meaningful and effective avenues for the population to voice grievances or to seek remedies.

Iran, speaking as a country concerned, said the situation in which they appeared before the Council was politically motivated, biased and unfair, and did not contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. The report claimed that the implementation of recommendations of human rights mechanisms by Iran was low. Adopting such opinions highlighted the biased and one-sided opinions of the report. The unilateral measures enacted on Iran impacted all areas of the Iranian people’s lives. The imposition of these measures against the Iranian nation was a crime against humanity, and was neglected within the report. Iran was committed to promoting and protecting human rights, and interacted and cooperated with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.

Ms. Al-Nashif said that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had documented cases of serious human rights violations in Nicaragua committed by State officials against the backdrop of a steady deterioration of the overall human rights situation. Restrictions on civic space, combined with the increasing erosion of the rule of law, continued to prevent the full exercise and enjoyment of human rights, in particular of those with dissenting views from the Government. Silencing of critical voices persisted in a context of widespread fear and harassment by the authorities, leaving almost no space for any open and inclusive public debate. New waves of arbitrary deprivations of liberty were carried out in April and May. Human rights were in danger in Nicaragua today. Five years into the crisis, Nicaragua had yet to address the challenges outlined in this and previous updates and reports to the Council.

Nicaragua did not take the floor to speak as a country concerned.

Ms. Al-Nashif said the economic crisis continued to have a severe impact on the rights and well-being of many Sri Lankans. Discussions with creditors were underway, and although the International Monetary Fund approved a financial support package, as an important first step, it was crucial to ensure that the burden of reforms did not further compound inequalities. Robust safety nets and social protection measures were needed to shelter the most vulnerable from the negative spill overs of economic restructuring. It was also vital to address the underlying factors of the crisis, including corruption. The announcement of plans for a Truth Commission required attention, as Sri Lanka had witnessed too many ad hoc commissions in the past which failed to ensure accountability. Fundamentally, it was the responsibility of the Sri Lankan authorities to directly acknowledge past violations and undertake credible investigations and prosecutions, alongside other accountability measures. The international community should play a complementary role.

Sri Lanka, speaking as a country concerned, said the Government was addressing unprecedented social and economic issues arising from the economic crisis. Political stability had been restored, while conditions on the ground had improved considerably for the people. Despite ongoing challenges, the Government was continuing its focus on long-term measures towards reconciliation and accountability within the constitutional framework. The Government was determined to safeguard peace and harmony amongst all communities while respecting fundamental freedoms. Sri Lanka had categorically rejected the external evidence gathering mechanism established following resolutions 46/1 and 51/1, which would have wide-ranging legal and political implications for all countries.

The Council heard statements delivered in right of reply. Speaking were Azerbaijan, India, China, Armenia, Cambodia, Tunisia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Japan.

The Council also held an interactive dialogue on the report of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz.

Presenting the report, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz said it was about the intersections between the right to freedom of religion or belief and the right to be free from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Religion was not inherently pro- or anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Yet, religion and the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender-diverse persons were often placed in antagonistic positions in social and political discourse. In some cases, religious narratives had been deliberately used to justify violence and discrimination, often in defiance of the doctrine of those faiths. The resulting sense of conflict undermined the ideal of peaceful human coexistence. The world needed to condemn the wrongful use of religious beliefs as an excuse for violence or discriminatory denial of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

Mr. Madrigal-Borloz also reported that he had undertaken three country visits to the United States, Cambodia and the United Kingdom. He planned to publish reports on these visits before the end of his tenure in October of this year.

In the ensuing discussion, many speakers thanked the Independent Expert for his valuable work and reaffirmed the importance of the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons from violence and discrimination, and for the progressive development of international human rights norms and standards. Speakers expressed concern about the alarming rates of violence, discrimination, and stigmatisation against this group worldwide, including discrimination based on religion or belief. Speakers said they condemned any invocation of freedom of religion or belief to justify violations against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as any violence against these people under the pretext of a religious practice. Some speakers were concerned that some States were invoking religious and traditional values to adopt laws that coerced and discriminated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, such as those criminalising consensual same-sex sexual relations with penalties, including death. States that had not done so should decriminalise consensual same-sex conduct in line with their obligations under international human rights law.

Speaking in the dialogue were Brazil, European Union, Argentina on behalf of a group of countries, Netherlands, Portugal, Liechtenstein, United Nations Women, United Kingdom, Israel, Peru, Luxembourg, United Nations Children’s Fund, Viet Nam, Costa Rica, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Ecuador, Iceland on behalf of group of countries, Germany, United States, France, Spain, Australia, Colombia, Canada, Malta, Venezuela, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Austria, Greece, Switzerland, Chile, Albania, Georgia, Cuba, Italy, Montenegro, Bolivia, Cyprus, Nepal, Uruguay, Hungary and Thailand.

Also speaking were Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit – COC Nederland, International Lesbian and Gay Association on behalf of Southeast Asia Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression Caucus Inc., GIN SSOGIE NPC on behalf of Southeast Asia Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression Caucus Inc., British Humanist Association, Humanists International, Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights on behalf of Southeast Asia Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression Caucus, Inc., International Organization for the Right to Education and Freedom of Education, Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, International Service for Human Rights on behalf of Southeast Asia Sexual Orientation, and Right Livelihood Award Foundation.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-third regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet on Thursday, 22 June, at 10 a.m. when it will hold an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Presentation by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights of Report on Iran and Oral Updates on Nicaragua and Sri Lanka

Report and Oral Updates

The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (A/HRC/53/23).

The Council also has before it oral updates by the Office of the High Commission on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua and on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka.

Presentation of the Secretary-General’s Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that over the past year, Iran continued to engage with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and United Nations human rights mechanisms, including on the issue of the death penalty. However, substantive engagement on the State’s obligations under international law remained limited, as was the implementation of recommendations from international human rights mechanisms. The overall human rights situation in Iran had markedly deteriorated against the backdrop of continuously worsening socio-economic conditions, aggravated by sanctions and the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report focused on developments since the onset of nation-wide protests following the death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini on 16 September 2022 in police custody. The protests, which occurred at various scale across the country’s 31 provinces, brought to the fore longstanding underlying grievances, including discrimination in law and practice against women and girls, as well as minorities. Civic and democratic space continued to be restricted in the country. Security forces used disproportionate force, leading to death and injury of protestors, raising concerns of unlawful killings.

Arbitrary detention of protestors, activists, human rights defenders, and lawyers significantly increased during the reporting period. Between 17 September 2022 and 8 February 2023, it was estimated that 20,000 individuals had been arrested and detained for supporting or participating in the protests. Thousands of children were estimated to have been among those arrested. During the reporting period, at least 44 children, including 10 girls, were reportedly killed by security forces using lethal force. There had been numerous allegations of torture and ill treatment of individuals by security forces during arrest and interrogation, as well as allegations of sexual and gender-based violence. Prison conditions, including denial of medical care, dire sanitary conditions, contaminated drinking water and overcrowding, remained of concern.

The authorities also retained broad control over the digital space and had intensified online censorship. Since 21 September 2022, access to some social media and messaging platforms remained banned. State policy had become more stringent in enforcing mandatory veiling, imposing harsher penalties. On 15 August 2022, the President signed a decree which included the introduction of face-recognition technology to track and punish unveiled women or those who actively questioned compulsory veiling. New draft provisions to the Penal Code were being considered in Parliament to expand the scope of offenses for non-compliance, allowing imprisonment, flogging, and other punishments. As of 2 March 2023, more than 1,000 students, the majority of whom were girls, had reportedly been affected by suspected poisoning in 91 schools in 20 provinces. There were also reports of intimidation of the families of the students who were seeking information on the alleged poisonings.

The report expressed serious concern about the high number of death penalty sentences and executions during the reporting period. In 2022, 582 people were executed, marking a 75 per cent increase compared to 2021. There were three children among those executed in 2022. Of the total number of executions, 256 were for drug-related offences. This marked the highest rate of drug-related executions in the country since 2017. The numbers of those executed from minority communities remained disproportionately high, particularly for alleged drug-related or security-related crimes. During the reporting period, four people were executed for their involvement in the nationwide protests, with serious concerns over their due process and fair trial rights. An additional 19 people were sentenced to death in the context of the protests and were considered at imminent risk of execution. After the reporting period, three more individuals were executed in Iran on 19 May.

Domestic avenues for accountability remained weak and ineffective, particularly in addressing violations in the context of recent protests. The lack of thorough, impartial, effective, independent, and transparent investigations into all incidents, including into the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, further undermined trust in the judicial system. Overall, the report showed a worsening human rights landscape in Iran, coupled with the chronic lack of meaningful and effective avenues for the population to voice grievances or to seek remedies. Ms. Al-Nashif said the Office of the High Commissioner stood ready to continue its engagement with the Iranian authorities on the range of issues of concern to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in Iran.

Statement by Iran as a Country Concerned

Iran, speaking as a country concerned, said the situation in which they appeared before the Council was politically motivated, biased and unfair, and did not contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. Establishing parallel mandates and compiling unnecessary reports on the basis of human rights was costly and unprofessional. The report claimed that the implementation of recommendations of human rights mechanisms by Iran was low. Adopting such opinions highlighted the biased and one-sided opinions of the report. The report contradicted the United Nations documents and acknowledgements of the imposing States.

The unilateral measures enacted on Iran impacted all areas of the Iranian people’s lives. The imposition of these measures against the Iranian nation was a crime against humanity, and was neglected within the report. A series of accusations levelled within the report, including institutionalised acts on women and girls, painted an incorrect picture on the situation of human rights in Iran. Out of more than 130 sources in the report’s footnotes, less than 30 were cited from inside sources; more were from anti-Iranian outlets. Unfortunately, the claims made by the report regarding the recent riots in the country contained inappropriate terms, often used by media outlets which reported against Iran. The report should not utilise fake news published by terrorist organizations. Iran was committed to promoting and protecting human rights, and interacted and cooperated with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.

Oral Update by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Nicaragua

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had documented cases of serious human rights violations in Nicaragua committed by State officials against the backdrop of a steady deterioration of the overall human rights situation. Restrictions on civic space, combined with the increasing erosion of the rule of law, continued to prevent the full exercise and enjoyment of human rights, in particular of those with dissenting views from the Government. Silencing of critical voices persisted in a context of widespread fear and harassment by the authorities, leaving almost no space for any open and inclusive public debate. New waves of arbitrary deprivations of liberty were carried out in April and May. On 3 May, 63 people were reported to have been arbitrarily detained throughout the country. That same night, 55 of them were charged with “conspiracy to undermine national integrity” and “spreading false news”. These crimes were routinely used by the authorities to criminalise political opponents and the legitimate work of human rights defenders.

The Office had also documented the prohibition of re-entry of at least six Nicaraguan nationals and obstacles for obtaining national passports for perceived political opponents. These measures had resulted in family separations, with a significant impact on affected children. Other measures, such as confiscation of assets, had negatively affected over 300 individuals deprived of their nationality as well as their relatives. Since March, a total of 119 civil society organizations and eight Universities had had their legal personality cancelled. Six members of the Catholic Church were expelled from the country and another four arrested this year alone. The bank accounts of at least three dioceses were frozen after the National Police accused the institution of money laundering. Furthermore, during the Holy Week celebrations, police officers reportedly intimidated and harassed priests and procession participants of at least four churches across the country. This led the Catholic Church to cancel most processions and gatherings out of fear of reprisals.

Indigenous peoples continued to be victims of attacks and harassment, reportedly by settlers. On 11 March, five people were killed in the Mayangna Wilú indigenous community. An indigenous leader from the Alal community in the Bosawas reserve was killed on 24 April. Around 60 families belonging to this community left their homes because of the killing, with at least half of them having since returned. As in previous attacks against indigenous peoples, the Government had failed to publicly condemn the attacks, and to release information on investigations. The Office called on concerned authorities to take all necessary measures to investigate all attacks and killings in indigenous communities in the Caribbean coast in accordance with human rights norms and standards. Authorities needed to prevent human rights abuses against indigenous peoples by taking appropriate protection measures.

Human rights were in danger in Nicaragua today. Five years into the crisis, Nicaragua had yet to address the challenges outlined in this and previous updates and reports to the Council. Ms. Al-Nashif reiterated her call on the Nicaraguan authorities to re-establish a meaningful dialogue with the Office and with the United Nations human rights mechanisms; and to ensure that all Nicaraguans were able to enjoy their human rights.

She urged the authorities to put an end and reverse all measures in place that were eroding the rule of law, civic space and human rights; immediately and unconditionally release all persons arbitrarily deprived of their liberty and restore the rights of persons deprived of their nationality; cease the persecution against the Catholic Church and civil society actors, and restore the legal personality of all associations, media outlets and universities arbitrarily cancelled since 2018; ensure accountability for present and past violations; anchor any political process in human rights; and use the national review before the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, scheduled in October, to re-engage constructively with the United Nations human rights system.

The Office of the High Commissioner stood ready to support Nicaragua through a meaningful and constructive dialogue and through the provision of technical cooperation to ensure an effective protection of the human rights of all Nicaraguans.

Statement by the Country Concerned

The Vice President said he had been informed that Nicaragua would not take the floor at this juncture.

Oral Update by the Office of the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in Sri Lanka

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the economic crisis continued to have a severe impact on the rights and well-being of many Sri Lankans. Discussions with creditors were underway, and although the International Monetary Fund had approved a financial support package, as an important first step, it was crucial to ensure that the burden of reforms did not further compound inequalities. Robust safety nets and social protection measures were needed to shelter the most vulnerable from the negative spill overs of economic restructuring. It was also vital to address the underlying factors of the crisis, including corruption.

The protest movement loudly expressed society’s aspirations for better governance and an inclusive vision of Sri Lanka. Twelve months on, this had yet to be realised. The Office urged the Government and political parties in Sri Lanka to use the opportunity for democratic renewal and deeper institutional reforms, and to advance accountability and reconciliation as well as the promotion and protection of human rights. The dialogue that President Wickremesinghe initiated with Tamil political parties was encouraging, and the Office welcomed his promise to stop land acquisition for archaeological, forestry or security purposes. The Supreme Court had issued an important order for compensation to be paid to the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. However, these intentions now needed to materialise into new laws, policies and practices that would bring about tangible changes.

The announcement of plans for a Truth Commission required attention, as Sri Lanka had witnessed too many ad hoc commissions in the past which failed to ensure accountability. A coherent plan was needed, which connected the different elements of truth, redress, memorialisation and accountability, and created the right enabling environment for a successful transitional justice process. The project team established in the Office to advance accountability was providing concrete support to several jurisdictions with ongoing criminal justice investigations. It was conducting proactive investigative work on key cases and collecting, consolidating and analysing information and evidence from a variety of sources.

Fundamentally, it was the responsibility of the Sri Lankan authorities to directly acknowledge past violations and undertake credible investigations and prosecutions, alongside other accountability measures. The international community should play a complementary role, including through the use of universal and extraterritorial jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators, and support the relevant accountability processes in third States, as well as fair application of targeted sanctions against credibly alleged perpetrators. The past months had unfortunately witnessed the old reflex of using draconian laws to curtail opposition and control civic space. Ms. Al-Nashif encouraged the Government to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and in the meantime to implement fully a strict moratorium on its use, considering that the ordinary Criminal Code and other ancillary laws already provided adequate tools for law enforcement.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Sri Lanka, speaking as a country concerned, said the Government was addressing unprecedented social and economic issues arising from the economic crisis. Political stability had been restored, while conditions on the ground had improved considerably for the people. Despite ongoing challenges, the Government was continuing its focus on long-term measures towards reconciliation and accountability within the constitutional framework. The International Monetary Fund Extended Fund Facility for Sri Lanka was approved recently, and the necessary reforms were underway, while social protection measures had also been introduced. The Government was determined to safeguard peace and harmony amongst all communities while respecting fundamental freedoms.

The Government was engaging in consultations with all stakeholders on the draft anti-terrorism bill and receiving views to ensure that it was in compliance with international standards, while catering to domestic needs. The anti-corruption bill was challenged in the Supreme Court, and a determination given. It was being taken up in Parliament for the second reading today, 21 June. On 29 May, the Secretary to the President was authorised to establish an interim secretariat of a truth and reconciliation mechanism. As of May, the Office on Missing Persons had concluded preliminary inquiries on over 3,000 complaints. The President had emphasised the need for its enhanced operations, including through digitisation and speeding up the issuance of Certificates of Absence.

Sri Lanka had categorically rejected the external evidence gathering mechanism established following resolutions 46/1 and 51/1, which would have wide-ranging legal and political implications for all countries. Sri Lanka actively and constructively engaged with the regular human rights mechanisms. Sri Lanka pledged its continued cooperation and constructive engagement with the Council.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (A/HRC/53/37).

Presentation of Report

VICTOR MADRIGAL-BORLOZ, United Nations Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said his report was about the intersections between the right to freedom of religion or belief and the right to be free from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “Religion” described a multitude of dynamic, contested and evolving beliefs and values that inspired hope, guided action, imbued identity and helped people to make meaning of their life experiences.

Religion was not inherently pro- or anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Yet religion and the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender-diverse persons were often placed in antagonistic positions in social and political discourse. In some cases, religious narratives had been deliberately used to justify violence and discrimination, often in defiance of the doctrine of those faiths. The resulting sense of conflict undermined the ideal of peaceful human coexistence. The world needed to condemn the wrongful use of religious beliefs as an excuse for violence or discriminatory denial of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

Mr. Madrigal-Borloz expressed concerns about religious or belief leaders fuelling disinformation, hate speech and intolerance against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, such as scapegoating them for controversies, positing them as a threat to the traditional family, and interpreting religious doctrines to exclude and promote violence and discrimination against homosexuality and gender nonconformity. This was concerning because lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons could be especially vulnerable to hate speech, which could lead to exile, emotional distress and suicidality.

For a very large proportion of humanity, spirituality was a fundamental part of the quest for meaning in life. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were often marginalised, stigmatised and excluded from religious communities simply because of who they were. Spirituality and faith needed to be available to all, including all persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Despite some examples of the contrary, many religious or belief traditions were inclusive and affirming of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Mr. Madrigal-Borloz invited all persons to pay attention to the voices and practices of inclusive communities, which could help to shift narratives claiming that the exercise of freedom of religion or belief was incompatible with the equal enjoyment of human rights by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

During the past 12 months, as part of his mandated activities, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz said he undertook three country visits to the United States, Cambodia and the United Kingdom. He thanked all of those who shared their views and experiences, which had informed his three reports, which Mr. Madrigal-Borloz planned to publish before the end of his tenure in October of this year. He looked forward to the observations of Member States and civil society during the interactive dialogue, and hoped that the ongoing dialogue on the topic would lead to peace, freedom and tolerance.

Discussion

In the discussion, many speakers thanked the Independent Expert for his valuable work and applauded his engagement over the past six years, noting that this would be his last interactive dialogue with the Council. Speakers reaffirmed the importance of work for the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons against violence and discrimination, and for the progressive development of international human rights norms and standards. Globally, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons community still faced discrimination, violence and marginalisation, and urgent actions were needed to address these issues.

A number of speakers reaffirmed their strong commitment to respect, protect and fulfil the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and said they would strive to combat all forms of discrimination and strongly condemn discriminatory laws, policies and practices. Any practices that may amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons needed to be prevented. Those speaking said they stood with all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people around the world, and would continue to speak up for their full enjoyment of human rights.

Some speakers expressed concern about the alarming rates of violence, discrimination, and stigmatisation against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons worldwide, including discrimination based on religion or belief. Religious or belief leaders played an important role in addressing human rights violations. These people were in a unique position to address discrimination based on religion or belief against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. The argument that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons presented a threat to traditional family, cultural or religious values was often used by religious or belief leaders; it actively fuelled disinformation or intolerance. This incited violence and hatred, which may amount to hate crimes, torture or ill treatment, or even killings.

Speakers condemned any invocation of freedom of religion or belief to justify violations against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as any violence against these people under the pretext of a religious practice.

Many speakers noted that it was often the States themselves that undermined the equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. This had been seen with recent pushbacks and criminalisation of same sex relationships or consensual sexual intercourse. Speakers were concerned that some States were invoking religious and traditional values to adopt laws that coerced and discriminated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, such as those criminalising consensual same-sex sexual relations with penalties, including death. Many emphasised their strong condemnation of any form of discrimination and violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and gender-diverse individuals.

Some speakers noted that States had a responsibility to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people from violent acts and hate speech by non-State actors. States that had not done so, should decriminalise consensual same-sex conduct, in line with their obligations under international human rights law.

Questions asked to the Independent Expert included what were good examples of regional solutions to protect persons from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in the context of freedom of religion or belief? How could more religious groups be reached when the denial came from their leaders? How could States better combat harmful legislation against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons?

Intermediary Remarks

VICTOR MADRIGAL-BORLOZ, United Nations Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, thanked the delegations that offered kind words regarding his work. There were attempts, he said, to reject the human rights architecture of the United Nations. Attempts to combat religious groups with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups pitted minority groups against each other. The United Nations human rights infrastructure provided societies with tools for identifying and unravelling discriminatory narratives against religious or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups. Freedom of religious belief and freedom from violence and discrimination should be complimentary. Instrumentalising narratives regarding religion and sexual orientation needed to be challenged. It was bone-chilling that Uganda had adopted a law that criminalised lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons on the basis of religious beliefs.

Discussion

In the continuing discussion, many speakers, among other things, thanked the Independent Expert for his report, and welcomed the focus on the interaction between religious freedoms and the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex people, describing his mandate as indispensable. The report’s analysis of how religious freedoms and the rights of this group co-existed and flourished, was an important tool in realising human rights for all. It was unacceptable that lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex people continued to face violence and discrimination around the world. Speakers were concerned this was often justified on religious grounds and sometimes amounted to criminalisation, which was contrary to States’ international human rights obligations.

Some speakers called on certain countries to immediately repeal their deeply discriminatory anti-homosexuality legislation, which targeted sexually and gender diverse persons with extremely harsh sentences. Speakers outlined the proactive steps to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex equality both domestically and internationally, including through approving new legislation, including on marriage equality, criminalising conversion therapy, and developing comprehensive national action plans, among others.

Many speakers expressed regret that progress on protecting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex persons was, in some cases, being backtracked. Same-sex relationships were illegal in 77 countries, and punishable by death in five of them, which was unacceptable. This perpetuated discrimination, physical and sexual assaults, and torture, and meant that lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex persons suffered higher rates of unemployment, inadequate access to housing, sexual, reproductive and mental health services and financial resources constraints. It was important to support marriage, parental rights and adoption, and ensure comprehensive legal protections and access to justice, property, autonomy, and healthcare for all. This should include gender-affirming care and legal gender change.

Could the Independent Expert share some examples of States that had effectively navigated this interaction? What other forms, beyond punitive ones, could counteract those traditional, religious and patriarchal values that were commonly used in discourses hostile to the human rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex persons?

Concluding Remarks

VICTOR MADRIGAL-BORLOZ, United Nations Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said the international community should see the report as a first stock of information on the issue of conflict between religion and sexual orientation. The report said that seeing the humanity in others would lead to peace, justice and freedom for all. Mr. Madrigal-Borloz said that serving the Council had been the joy of his life. He had gathered significant evidence that persons affected by violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups existed everywhere around the world. States should not make their reality invisible.

Mr. Madrigal-Borloz said that persons of all ages had related to his stories that, if they said that they were members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, they would be blocked from achieving transcendence, and be seen as nothing or less than nothing. The report argued that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons should be able to reclaim their spirituality. Religious rights were complimentary with the right to freedom from discrimination, and could work in coherence of a framework. Measures preventing violence and discrimination needed to be enforced. Mr. Madrigal-Borloz called for a world free of discrimination and criminalisation of sexual orientation and gender identity. It was the continued task of the Council to build a world where all were free and equal, under the guidance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2023/06/le-conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-dialogue-avec-lexpert

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