Latins, Europe unite at U.N. to back persecuted gays

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 26, 2014 2:59 PM

By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - Latin American and European countries united on Friday to push a resolution on ending violence against homosexuals through the United Nations Human Rights Council, despite strong opposition from Islamic and African states.

The resolution, passed by 25 votes against 14 in the 47-member body, ensured that the issue remained on its agenda in the face of what its backers said was a rising global tide of discrimination and physical abuse against gay men and lesbians.

It called on the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Jordanian diplomat Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, to report to the council next year on the issue and propose ways to overcome it.

The resolution was drawn up by Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia. Chile argued that voting against it would effectively condone violent treatment meted out "to millions of people around the world on the basis of sexual orientation".

Pakistan, speaking for the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, told the council the measure would be "detrimental to our Muslim societies, and especially our youth", while Egypt said homosexuality was not covered by U.N. rights agreements.

For the European Union, Italy and Ireland -- both predominantly Roman Catholic countries where homosexuality was taboo in the past -- said the resolution would help improve the difficult situation in which many gays and lesbians had to live.

Cuba and Venezuela, which generally vote against motions backed by the West, also supported the resolution.

RUSSIA VOTES NO

But Russia, which has in recent years abandoned its post-Soviet liberal stance on homosexuality for a tougher line, sided with the Islamic and African countries to vote no, while China abstained, saying the issue was "too divisive".

South Africa, which has stood almost alone on the continent in supporting gay rights but had appeared to be steering away from it, surprised some delegates by voting in favor, saying homosexuals should enjoy the same rights as all citizens.

Countries supporting the resolution, who included the United States, said it was essential to keep the council -- split on many issues across old Cold War lines -- focused on the problem amid a trend in Africa to make homosexuality illegal.

It has long been a criminal, in some cases capital, offence in the Muslim world.

Both Uganda and Nigeria -- where homosexuality is illegal -- condemned the resolution as an attempt to influence their peoples' culture. Neither are currently members of the council, where all U.N. members can speak, if not vote.

The body agreed narrowly in 2011 to ask the then U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay to report on violence against gays. In 2012 she called a special meeting in Geneva to discuss it, but Islamic and many African states boycotted the gathering.

At Friday's session, Algeria -- echoed by Egypt -- said the resolution was "an attempt to divert the council's attention from important issues of real discrimination against deprived people around the world".

In the voting, a total of seven countries abstained while one was absent.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)