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UN LGBTI resolution: Will India vote for equal rights without prejudice?

On Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will seek what rights activists are calling a “historic” vote to establish the first UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to end discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

india Updated: Jun 30, 2016 15:58 IST
How will India, which is a member of the Human Rights Council, vote this time around in the United Nations sexual orientation and gender identity  issue? 
How will India, which is a member of the Human Rights Council, vote this time around in the United Nations sexual orientation and gender identity issue? (HT photo)

On Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will seek what rights activists are calling a “historic” vote to establish the first UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to end discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Proposed by six nations – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay – the SOGI resolution follows on the 2011 UN resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity presented by South Africa and the 2014 resolution presented by the Latin American core group. India abstained from voting on both resolutions.

How will India, which is a member of the Human Rights Council, vote this time around? Will it vote for ending discrimination that prevents people from accessing healthcare, housing, work and education because of their sexual orientation and gender identity? Or will it go with the dogmatic millions who use religion and culture as an excuse to deny equal rights to everyone who doesn’t appear to conform to their unilateral, totalitarian worldview?

Pride in prejudice

Prejudice against sexual orientation and gender identity persists in some form or the other in many cultures and religions but it hasn’t prevented nations from creating laws to offer equal rights to all its citizens. Laws can’t stop people from thinking or believing what they do, but they can very effectively and efficiently prevent people from acting – often quite violently – on their prejudices and beliefs.

Violence against LGBTI persons is under-reported in India and the world. Aside from the 49 people who were killed in a mass shooting at a popular gay nightclub in Orlando earlier this month, there were 2,115 less-highlighted murders of trans- and gender-diverse persons in 65 countries worldwide between January 2008 and April 2016.

Though the UN acknowledged that sexual orientation could be a ground for discrimination in 1994, India remains among 73 of the UN’s 193 member states that still criminalise same-sex relations. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which dates back to 1860, criminalises sexual acts “against the order of nature,” including consensual gay sex among adults. This archaic law denies basic human rights to sexual minorities, who can be arrested and imprisoned for life for their sexual orientation.

In a celebrated judgment, Delhi High Court decriminalised consenting homosexual sex between adults in July 2009, but the apex court overturned the judgment on grounds that amending or repealing Section 377 should be left to Parliament, not the judiciary.

Neither here nor there

India’s response to growing LGBTI rights debate has been mixed. It voted in favour of the 2010 amendment to a resolution at the General Assembly on extra judicial execution and supported the view that extra-judicial killing on grounds of a person’s sexual orientation is a crime. Another plus was its vote in favour of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) accreditation of LGBTI NGOs.

But then its position turned conservative. In 2014, India abstained from voting on a resolution to create a report on violence driven by SOGI-discrimination, and again in 2015, it joined Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia to vote against extending benefits given to heterosexual couples to same-sex partners among UN employees, irrespective of the country they are working in.

A vote against SOGI will put the spotlight on India’s apparently growing hostility to LGBTI, who are increasingly excluded, ridiculed and attacked in religious and social fora across states. It will find it increasingly hard to defend Section 377 of the IPC, which violates articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India that guarantee equality, freedom of expression and personal liberty to all citizens.

A vote in favour will make India a leader among progressive nations that have the confidence and good sense to imbibe the best of their religious and cultural heritage and discard unscientific prejudices and biases that exclude millions from their right to equality, and with it, the right to life.

WHERE NATIONS STAND

Where nations stand on SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) issues:

Africa

· Algeria: Has consistently opposed SOGI recognition

· Botswana: Expressed support for African Commission SOGI resolution at HRC26; spoke against SOGI-related violence at High Level Segment of the HRC in March 2016

· Burundi: Abstained on SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions resolution

· Congo: Has opposed SOGI recognition

· Côte d’Ivoire: Did not vote on SOGI inclusion in executions resolution, and abstained on a SOGI-related NGO ECOSOC-status vote

· Ethiopia: Abstained on SOGI inclusion in executions resolution

· Ghana: Voted against SOGI resolution in 2011 and abstained on SOGI inclusion in EJE resolution

· Kenya: Abstained on SOGI inclusion in executions resolution

· Morocco: Has opposed SOGI recognition

· Namibia: Abstained in the 2011 SOGI resolution

· Nigeria: Has opposed SOGI recognition

· South Africa: Lead State and cosponsor of SOGI resolution in 2011; endorsed 2011 SOGI joint statement; voted in favour of the 2014 SOGI resolution

· Togo: Abstained on SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions resolution

Asia

· Bangladesh: Voted against SOGI resolution in 2011 and against inclusion of SOGI in extrajudicial executions resolution

· China: Abstained on SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014

· India: Voted in favour of SOGI in extrajudicial executions resolution & ECOSOC accreditation of LGBTI NGOs; abstained on SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014

· Indonesia: Has opposed SOGI recognition, but has some domestic protections for LGBT persons

· Kyrgyzstan: Abstained on SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions resolution and did not vote on SOGI resolution in 2011

· Maldives: Opposed SOGI inclusion in executions resolution in 2012, abstained in 2010

· Mongolia: Voted in favour of SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions resolution

· Philippines: Abstained on SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions resolution & ECOSOC votes, voted in favor of SOG resolution 2014, has expressed openness in GA discussions

· Qatar: Voted against SOGI resolution in 2011 and against SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions resolution

· Republic of Korea: Voted in favour of SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions resolution and in favor of SOGI resolutions 2014 and 2011

· Saudi Arabia: Has consistently opposed SOGI recognition

· United Arab Emirates: Has consistently opposed SOGI recognition

· Viet Nam: Voted in favor of SOGI resolution in 2014, accepted UPR recommendations on SOGI

Central and Eastern Europe

· Albania: Voted in favor of SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014, voted in favor of SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions

· Georgia: Voted in favour of SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions resolution

· Latvia: Co-sponsored and voted in favor of SOGI resolution in 2014 and in favor of SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions

· Russian Federation: Has consistently opposed SOGI recognition

· The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Voted in favor of SOGI resolution in 2014

Latin America and Caribbean

· Bolivia (Plurinational State of): Co-sponsored and voted in favor of SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014

· Cuba: Voted in favor of SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014

· El Salvador: Voted in favor of SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions; however also leads on another resolution (Protection of the Family) that opposes SOGI-inclusive language

· Mexico: Voted in favor of SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014; is a member of the core group of States bringing the resolution

· Panama: Voted in favor of SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions

· Paraguay: Voted in favor of SOGI inclusion in extrajudicial executions

· Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of): Co-sponsor of SOGI resolution in 2011, voted in favor of SOGI resolution in 2014

Western Group

· Belgium: Co-sponsored SOGI resolutions in 2014 and voted in favor in 2011

· France: Co-sponsored and voted in favor of SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014

· Germany: Co-sponsored SOGI resolution in 2011 and voted in favor in 2014

· Netherlands: Co-sponsored SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014

· Portugal: Co-sponsored SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014

· Switzerland: Co-sponsored SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014, and voted in favor in 2011

· United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: Co-sponsored and voted in favor of SOGI resolutions in 2011 and 2014