Saturday, June 14, 2008

The world is a better place for having a strong and articulate UU UNO at the United Nations.

(Doorways by Qiyamah A. Rahman)

As a recent board member to the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU UNO). I recently received the following correspondence from Bruce Knotts, the Executive Director. It is a reminder of the work we must constantly engage in to ensure the human rights of all citizens.
Blessed Be! Rev. Qiyamah

The world is a better place for having a strong and articulate UU UNO at the United Nations.

Written by Bruce Knotts and edited by Rev. Qiyamah A. Rahman

Every year the United Nations Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organizations (DPI/NGO) hosts a conference. For the first time, this conference will not be in New York City, but rather in Paris. The Conference will discuss issues related to Human Rights and will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in Paris in 1948. The UN DPI/NGO has not considered the topic of Human Rights since 1994. Member states are very nervous whenever human rights are discussed and they fear they will be targeted for blame. Also, for the first time, this UN DPI/NGO conference will also be jointly hosted by UNESCO, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Government of the French Republic.

The organizers of this conference were very eager to make the conference broad and inclusive. DPI/NGO produced documents suggesting that the conference discuss issues related to poverty, women’s issues, the human rights of the disabled, indigenous people, the Delat people in India and the Roma people in Europe. There were long lists of marginalized people about which the conference organizers suggested we focus some discussion, however, there was no mention of LGBT rights.

LGBT rights have been an issue at that the UN wanted to ignore. For many years LGBT NGOs have petitioned the Economic and Social Committee of the United Nations (ECOSOC) to obtain consultative status. Led by Iran and supported by many other nations, the UN effectively barred LGBT organizations from having a voice at the UN. Until 2006, the USA supported the resolutions by Iran to bar LGBT organizations from obtaining consultative status at the UN.

However, the US Mission to the UN now consistently votes to include LGBT organizations at the UN. Some Western nations such as the Netherlands, The United Kingdom, Canada and others lobby intensively to include LGBT organizations. The U.S. Mission does no such lobbying, but it has changed its vote. Despite the USA vote change, there have been enough votes to continue to bar LGBT NGOs from having a voice at the UN even without the US vote.

Over a decade ago, 5 European LGBT NGOs obtained consultative status at the United Nations. Recently, due the vigorous diplomatic efforts from the Government of the Netherlands, the Government of Burundi changed its vote and for the first time in over a decade, a Dutch LGBT group recently obtained consultative status at the UN. However, none of these six European LGBT organizations that have status at the UN have offices in New York City. There are no LGBT NGOs to represent the interests of LGBT Human Rights. To put all this in some context, there are about 4,000 NGOs with consultative status at the UN including about 400 faith-based originations. With no LGBT organization at UN in New York city with access to the UN, it has fallen to the UU UNO to ensure that LGBT issues are not totally ignored

If a culture enslaves people of color, that culture needs to change. If a culture mutilates the genitals of young girls, that culture needs to change. If a culture beats, tortures, rapes, and kills people who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, that culture needs to change. It is important to publiciz the life-and-death issues that face LGBTs around the world first. LGBTs must first have the right to live in safety, free from arrest, torture, beatings and other abuse. LGBTs around the world need access to health care, jobs, housing and education. Once these basic survival needs are met, we can move on the quality of life issues, such as marriage. This position has been respected at the UN. It is solely due to the efforts of the UU UNO that LGBT rights are now firmly on the agenda for the Paris Conference.

For nearly 50 years, the UU UNO has used its influence to ensure that UU values are heard and considered at the UN. The UU UNO helped found the Religions for Peace Office at the United Nations. It played a pivotal role in the formation of the International Criminal Court. We play a key role in ending genocide in Darfur and we play a key role in ensuring that Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and the Transgendered are protected from brutal and barbaric torture, abuse and death around the world. The world is a better place for having a strong and articulate UU UNO at the United Nations.

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