Homophobic hate crimes on the rise, UN human rights chief warns

18 May 2011

Hate crimes against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people are rising around the world, the United Nations human rights chief said today, urging governments to do much more to eliminate discrimination and prejudice based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a video message marking the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said homophobia and transphobia are no different to sexism, misogyny, racism or xenophobia.

“But whereas these last forms of prejudice are universally condemned by governments, homophobia and transphobia are too often overlooked,” she said.

“History shows us the terrible human price of discrimination and prejudice. No one is entitled to treat a group of people as less valuable, less deserving or less worthy of respect. Each and every one of us is entitled to the same rights, to the same respect and ethical treatment, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Ms. Pillay said statistics indicated that homophobic-based hate crimes were on the rise in many parts of the world, from New York to Brazil and Honduras to South Africa. Homosexuality also remains a criminal offence in more than 70 countries.

Yet the High Commissioner said homosexuality and transgenderism have been present in all societies throughout human history.

She added that international human rights standards have already incorporated the principle that no one should experience discrimination on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity.

“Seventeen years ago the UN Human Rights Committee, whose job it is to remind States of such things, confirmed that, under international law, States have an obligation to decriminalize homosexuality and to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. Other UN treaty bodies have said the same thing.

”In a separate message, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that the stigma and discrimination faced by many lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people was hampering an effective response to the disease.“

The AIDS response has shown that when people are stigmatized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they are less likely to access the HIV services they need,” said Michel Sidibé. “This leads to new HIV infections and AIDS deaths.”

Mr. Sidibé urged governments to create social and legal environments that ensure respect for human rights and universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and support.

For her part, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan said in a message that anti-gay prejudice and discrimination harm not only individuals but broader economic development as well.“

Homophobia curbs the capacity of individuals to realize their aspirations and potential,” she said. “Discrimination and harassment in families, schools, workplaces and the military on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity lead people to drop out of school, prevent them from getting jobs and inhibits millions across the globe from seeking crucial health services.”

The International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia is observed on 17 May each year as it marks the anniversary of the 1990 decision by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) to remove homosexuality from the international classification of diseases.