On the need to be specific about discrimination

Cross-posted from Greens Engage.

A few weeks ago the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian & Cultural) of the United Nations General Assembly voted on a draft resolution concerning extra-judicial, arbitrary and summary executions. Every two years, this vote affirms the duties of member countries to uphold the right to life of all people and calls on them to investigate discriminatory killings.

For the past decade, the resolution has drawn explicit attention to sexual orientation among other groups which historically have been targeted for summary execution. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission describes this reference as an important part of:

“… a non-exhaustive list in the resolution highlighting the many groups of people that are particularly targeted by killings – including persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, persons acting as human rights defenders (such as lawyers, journalists or demonstrators) as well as street children and members of indigenous communities. Mentioning sexual orientation as a basis on which people are targeted for killing highlights a situation in which particular vigilance is required in order for all people to be afforded equal protection.”

However, the inclusion of sexual orientation is contested. This year an amendment, sponsored by Benin on behalf of the African Group, called for replacing the words ‘sexual orientation’ with ‘discriminatory reasons on any basis.’ The amendment was narrowly passed with support from countries which criminalise homosexuality.

Peter Tatchell, who suffered a homophobic beating in Moscow which prevented him from pursuing Green Party parliamentary candidacy, expressed his outrage.

Among many others concerned about the deletion is the Association of British Muslims:

“Removing this clause at this time will send quite the wrong signal to those regimes that indulge in these barbaric practices, implying as it does that United Nations is no longer concerned at the maltreatment of people because of their sexual orientation or considers it to be a lesser matter.

Referring to the Nazis, Paster Martin Niemoller once wrote, ‘First they came…’. Have we not learned anything since the tragedies of World War 2? Niemoller started out by saying, ‘First they came for the communist’s, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist’ Then, the socialists, trade unionists, Jews and other groups until finally he writes, ‘Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me’.

The Committee vote is to be ratified in December. The Association of British Muslims calls on member states of the General Assembly not to endorse the decision of its Third Committee, and to reinstate the deleted clause.”

Reverend Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said:

“The reference to sexual orientation was part of a list which highlights many of the groups that are targeted by killings – including those belonging to national or ethnic groups, human rights defenders and street children and members of indigenous communities. Until now it has been accepted that the mention of sexual orientation is required to draw attention to the fact that this is often the specific reason why individuals are killed. The removal of this reference sends a message that people do not merit protection based upon their sexual orientation and will further fuel homophobic hatred and violence.”

These arguments are also striking because they are exactly the same ones which can be made in response to ongoing efforts, gradually encroaching from the margins of British politics, to deny or otherwise minimise contemporary forms of persecution and discrimination against Jews.

This ghosting out of antisemitism also seeks to omit it as a consideration in official documents and campaigns, or subsume its specifics into more general statements which shine no light, cannot penetrate, and are destined to become platitudes. Like the UN Resolution on extra-judicial executions which deletes reference to gay people, a decision to remove antisemitism from consideration signals prejudice or an ominous readiness to cement political allegiances by indulging prejudice.

Let us not step backwards.

To end, an aside – it may interest readers to know that every representative from the Middle East voted for this amendment to whitewash persecution of gay people, except one. Israel’s voted to retain explicit reference to sexual orientation. In the alignments around this vote, some commentators will see only the usual confrontations and alliances between blocs of countries. This was Cuba’s official explanation, but it’s a view which is totally aloof from the lives – and deaths – of the people affected. If you are gay, it boils down to this: same-sex relations which other countries call ‘un-Christian’, ‘un-African’, ‘un-Islamic’, are not ‘un-Israeli’. Israel is the best place in the Middle East to be yourself if you are gay.

the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted on a special resolution addressing extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions. The resolution affirms the duties of member countries to protect the right to life of all people with a special emphasis on a call to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds. The resolution highlights particular groups historically subject to executions including street children, human rights defenders, members of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority communities, and, for the past 10 years, the resolution has included sexual orientation as a basis on which some individuals are targeted for death.