HRC submitted testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in response to the committee’s hearing entitled “Assessing the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR).”
HRC strongly supports the work of the UNHRC because, as HRC’s Government Affairs Director David Stacy explained in his testimony, “the Council has taken historic steps to protect and promote the human rights and dignity of LGBTQ people.”
Stacy wrote about the UNHRC’s first-ever resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), which passed in 2011. With help from the U.S., the Council passed a South African-proposed resolution that directed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on “discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The ensuing report was enormously important for advancing LGBTQ human rights, as it detailed in a comprehensive way the violence and discrimination occurring against LGBTQ people in “every region of the world.” According to Stacy, the report also “called on UN member states to repeal any laws criminalizing same-sex conduct; to investigate and report all incidents of violence against LGBTQ people and those perceived to be LGBTQ; and to take steps to counter homophobia and transphobia among the general public.”
In 2016, the U.S. and other LGBTQ-friendly nations passed a resolution at the UNHRC appointing an Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand is the first person to hold that position. He has already begun assessing LGBTQ human rights in various countries, meeting with LGBTQ advocates around the globe and engaging with governments and civil society to help combat violence and discrimination targeting LGBTQ people.
Unfortunately, the UNHRC has often been the subject of controversy, particular for members of Congress who believe that it unfairly targets certain countries while giving a pass to some of the world’s most egregious human rights abusers. The Trump administration is considering withdrawing the U.S. from the UNHRC, and various members of Congress have urged the Trump Administration – and past U.S. administrations – to do just that.
“Turning away from the Council will do nothing to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives or the protection of human rights,” Stacy wrote. “In fact, we have seen the Council at its worst when the U.S. is not providing leadership, which allows despotic leaders to control the agenda and push their own cynical goals.”
Stacy concluded that despite flaws, “the UN Human Rights Council has been a crucial body for supporting the human rights of LGBTQ people, and that work is greatly enhanced when the U.S. is fully engaged in its work and provides leadership.”