UN LGBT Staff Still Fighting for Equal Benefits

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Sept. 1, 2015 – In July 2014, Ban Ki-moon issued an administrative directive to extend entitlement benefits to UN employees who are in legally-recognized same-sex unions, not just those from countries where same-sex marriages are legal – which had been the standing UN policy.

While Russia attempted to torpedo Ban’s ruling, the General Assembly’s budget committee voted down Moscow’s draft resolution to overturn the UN chief’s directive in March this year.

But not all UN agencies and programs are following Ban’s ruling – which technically applied only to Secretariat staff – including, crucially, the UN’s pension fund. The fund still only recognize spouses of same-sex partners if they come from one of the 20 countries worldwide that recognize same-sex unions.

“This is something we’re trying very hard to change,” said Hyung Hak Nam in an interview with UN Tribune. Hyung Hak is president of UN-Globe, an advocacy group fighting for equality and non-discrimination for LGBT staff in the UN system and peacekeeping operations.

“This is a huge issue because pension is a key component of any benefits package for any job,” Hyung Hak said, adding that the pension fund, the UN-JSPF, is not following what is in place for most of the UN system – that your same-sex spouse is your legal beneficiary.

“You’re married to someone then you die then your spouse will not be eligible for any spousal benefits, which straight married couples would automatically get without any questions asked,” Hyung Hak said of the current rules governing the UN’s pension fund. “Basically if you are from the right country, for example Spain, they will recognize your marriage but if you’re from Belarus, for example, they will not recognize your same-sex marriage.

Parental leave is another issue where UN-Globe are advocating for change. “It’s basically gendered,” Hyung Hak said. “The mother gets 16 weeks, the father eight weeks, or four [depending on the UN agency].”

“When you have, for example, a gay couple and both are male and they have a baby through surrogacy because of this policy that differentiates between mothers and fathers they would only qualify for the 4 or 8 weeks,” he said. “It’s not in line with the expanding notion of what the family is or the composition of the family.”

Hyung Hak pointed out that this policy also affects single fathers who adopt and that some UN agencies also give longer parental leave to mothers who give birth naturally over those who become parents through surrogacy or adoption.

There are other areas too where LGBT staff face hurdles, Hyung Hak explains.

“Most of the agencies of the UN have a mobility policy, we are expected to be able to serve wherever an organization needs you,” he says, giving the example of Nairobi, Kenya where the UN has its headquarters for Africa.

“It is considered a family duty station. Staff who move there receive an entitlement to move the entire family from New York to Nairobi. Since the Kenyan government won’t give residency visas to same sex-spouses, what a lot of LGBTI staff members are faced with is moving by themselves, or finding other means, such as pretending the same sex spouse is a sibling or a domestic servant” and obtaining the appropriate visa.

He also says that gay staff members who are unable to bring their spouse to duty stations hostile to LGBT people should receive a hardship allowance as staff members receive when they serve in places such as Darfur, Sudan and Afghanistan.

“If a gay staff member has to move to Uganda [where the UN has a regional hub] by himself he’s doing it under conditions of hardship. We want the UN to recognize this. We don’t want the UN the to say Uganda is a family duty station. We want the UN to give credit to the staff member, to get credit for moving to Uganda leaving his family behind. We want the staff member to get credit for having served in a hardship duty station,” Hyung Hak said.

He added that while the UN leadership has been supportive of LGBT issues and LGBT staff praise Ban for his leadership, that when it comes to dealing with member states on issues, for example, visas, the UN could do more.

“You’re dealing with a member state and the UN has always been very cautious in its dealings with member states,” Hyung Hak said.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Russia Defeated on Same-Sex Benefits at UN

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March 24, 2015 Russia’s gambit on revoking Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s ruling that expanded employment benefits to same-sex married couples failed when put to a vote on Tuesday.

A Russian-sponsored draft resolution was defeated by a vote of 80 against, 43 for and 37 abstentions.

Among those supporting Moscow’s resolution were China, India, Nigeria, Syria and Bahrain.

EU countries voted against the text and were supported by the US, South Korea, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Liberia and Venezuela, among others.

Abstaining countries included many Caribbean states as well as Kenya, Monaco and Bhutan.

A number of countries did not vote, including Turkey, Cuba and Afghanistan.

The full recorded vote is below.

Voting Record on L.9

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