UN Rights Council Adopts Resolution Supporting LGBT Rights

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Sept. 26, 2014 – More than half the members of the 47-nation Human Rights Council on Friday supported a resolution that affirms the dignity of all people irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity and condemns acts of violence and discrimination against people based on these grounds.

Twenty-five countries voted for the text while seven abstained and 14 voted against it. The resolution, sponsored by Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, asks human rights commissioner Zeid Hussein to provide a report to the Council on best practices to overcome discrimination and violence against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Of the 13 African countries on the Council, South Africa was the only one that voted for the resolution while Congo, Sierra Leone and Namibia abstained. Benin did not vote while the nine other countries including Botswana, Algeria, Morocco, Ivory Coast and Kenya voted no.

 

In the Asia group, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam voted for the resolution while India abstained and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is punishable by death, voted against the text as did Pakistan, Maldives, Kazakhstan, UAE, and Indonesia.

 

All members of the Western Europe group supported the resolution. Russia voted against it while other members of the Eastern European group, including Estonia and Romania, supported the resolution.

“The resolution does not seek to create any new rights but simply affirms the application of existing international standards and law to those who face human rights abuses and violations simply because of who they are and who they love,” said Italy’s representative to the Council on behalf of EU states before the vote.

 

-Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Urges Qatar to Tackle Migrant Rights, Women’s Rights

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May 7, 2014 – Qatar should abolish its kafala system which ties a migrant worker to their employer and the Gulf country must take action to end discrimination against women.

Those were the main recommendations of UN bodies to the energy-rich emirate during its universal periodic review in Geneva on Wednesday.

In its submission, the UN Committee Against Torture said it “was deeply concerned about reports of widespread torture or ill-treatment and abuse of migrant workers, in particular under the sponsorship system, and about constraints faced by such workers on lodging complaints against their employers.”

Under the kalifa, or sponsorship, system a migrant worker essentially becomes the property of his or her employer. The sponsor monitors and controls all aspects of the worker’s life and it’s common practice for sponsors to confiscate the worker’s passport.

Of Qatar’s population of about 1.8 million, only 280,000 of these are citizens as the vast majority are foreign workers, mostly from South Asia.

The Committee to End Racial Discrimination called on Qatar to revise its law on nationality which bans Qatari women from passing on citizenship to their children if their husband is foreign.

The Gulf country was also urged to allow for equal representation in parliament as currently only men are authorized to be nominated to the Shura council, the legislative branch.

UNESCO raised concerns about Qatar’s blasphemy law which imposes seven-year prison sentences for “insulting the Supreme Being in letter and spirit,
in writing, drawing, gesturing or in any other way” while human rights commissioner Navi Pillay called for the immediate release of a poet who was sentenced to 15 years for allegedly encouraging the overthrow of the ruling system in Qatar and insulting the “nation’s symbols.”

Qatar was also urged to abolish the death penalty. The country’s representative at the review, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani, noted that no executions had taken place since 2003.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

The UN’s Poor Record on Gender Equality

The eight UN secretaries-general.

The eight UN secretaries-general.

March 7, 2014 – The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) convenes at the UN’s New York headquarters next week for its annual review of progress the world is making toward gender equality and it will do so in a building where few women are appointed to senior positions and among member states who are often indifferent to women’s rights.

Only 19 of the 108 personal and special representatives, envoys and advisors appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are women. There’s also never been a female secretary-general and the heads of peacekeeping and political affairs have always been men.

The Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 1325 in October 2000, the first to address the impact of armed violence on women, called for the participation of women in peace processes, the prevention of violence against women and the protection of women and children during armed conflict. But its application has been uneven, with a greater emphasis on the protection of women and children and far less on its other two pillars.

“Yes, we need to have women protected but just the protection aspect leaves women as victims. Women should be negotiators,” Carolyn Stephenson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, told UN Tribune. “The emphasis of the resolution was equal but in terms of success, the success has been more on the protection. Women need to be protected. Then there’s the ‘women and children’ – one word – are to be protected. Well women and children are very different.”

“It is certainly easier to talk about protecting women than advocating for their participation, in peace negotiations, for example. It fits in well with the popular representation of women as a vulnerable group – women can be outsiders whose protection hinges upon the interest, will and resources of the powers-that-be,” said Soumita Basu, Professor of International Relations at the South Asian University in Delhi, India, in an interview with UN Tribune. “It is harder to open up spaces for greater participation of women within the system, or even more radically, talk about conflict prevention in ways that would challenge the status quo-ist nature of politics that sustains the UNSC.”

According to research conducted by UN Women, of 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011, only 4 per cent of signatories, 2.4 per cent of chief mediators, 3.7 percent of witnesses and nine percent of negotiators were women.

The theme of this year’s CSW is achievements and challenges of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. The challenges outweigh the achievements, according to a draft of the outcome document. One positive is that gender parity has been achieved in primary school education, but women are underrepresented in second and third-level education. It also says there are an unacceptably high number of maternal deaths, that the number of women living with HIV, malaria and other infectious diseases is increasing globally since 2001, and that the target for safe sanitation will not be met, with serious implications for women and girls.

Moreover, it says that “several critical gender equality issues were not covered by the MDGs such as violence against women and girls, women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care work, women’s equal access to assets and productive resources, the gender wage gap, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and women’s equal participation at all levels of decision-making.”

These are the shortcomings that UN member states and Ban Ki-moon’s panel advising him on the post-2015 agenda will have to address in devising goals to succeed the MDGs in September 2015. Ultimately, it is the 193 member states that has to approve the post-2015 goals.

“Understandably, much of the UN’s work depends on the contributions of its member states and the lack of political will when it comes to women’s issues is widely recognized,” Soumita Basu says. “In spite of this, the women’s agenda has made many important advances since 1945,” she says, citing Resolution 1325 and the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

“To move forward with this, it is important that the UN takes more seriously the notion that people are central to its work and that women – in all their diversity – are an integral part of this constituency.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Day One of UNGA Highlights Global Gender Gap in Politics

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Brazil’s President Dilma Rouseff Addresses 2012 General Assembly (UN Photo/Marco Castro)

Sept. 23, 2013 –  Only six of the 34 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs that will address the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday are women.

Argentina (Cristina Kirchner), Bangladesh (Sheikh Hasina), Brazil (Dilma Rouseff), Costa Rica (Laura Chinchila), Liberia (Ellen Sirleaf) and Malawi (Joyce Banda) are the countries with female leaders taking the podium on the opening day of the high-level segment.

The less than 20 percent ratio of women to men is pretty much average across the board for female participation in politics with women occupying about 18 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide.

While some European governments, particularly Nordic ones, have up to 40 percent of women members, the continent lags when it comes to female leaders with only Denmark, Germany, Lithuania and Slovenia led by a woman.

Globally, less than 20 governments are headed by a woman. Besides the above, others include Jamaica, South Korea, Thailand and Trinidad & Tobago.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Cancels Gaza Marathon After Hamas Bans Women Competitors

March 5, 2013 – Next month’s Gaza marathon has been canceled after Hamas banned women from participating, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said Tuesday.

Some 551 local people, including 266 women, as well as 256 international runners, including 119 women, were registered to compete in the race or one of the associated events which included 2km and 10km walks. Gaza children attending UN schools were also set to take part in marathon relay teams.

“UNRWA regrets to announce that it has cancelled the third Gaza marathon which was to be held on 10 April,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday. “This follows the decision by the authorities in Gaza not to allow women to participate.”

Last year’s race was won by Nader el Masri, who is from Gaza and participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He had been helping UNRWA train locals for this year’s event, the agency said.

Hamas, who have ruled Gaza since 2007, previously banned women from riding on the back of motorcycles and banned men from working as hairdressers for women as part of what is called the group’s virtue campaign.

Funds raised from the marathon were to aid a summer program for Gaza’s children. 

The marathon course was planned to start at one end of the approximately 25-mile long Gaza Strip and end at the other.

- Denis Fitzgerald