While the Charter of the United Nations, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), staunchly defend individual rights in the face of discrimination, such defense did not explicitly apply to persistent acts of discrimination and human rights abuses on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity until the late 2010s. While briefly discussed in the UNGA in the 1990s, the topic of LGBT abuse and discrimination was slow to enter debate in the HRC due to the stigma placed in many countries on LGBT individuals, and controversy surrounding their status. Falling within the broader category of sexual and gender-based violence, LGBT discrimination can take many forms: harassment, psychological abuse, physical abuse, assault, rape, and murder. The visibility of crimes and abuses driven by homophobic and transphobic biases is low and can be difficult to identify, because traditional religious and cultural values in different countries can shroud the persecution and abuse.
The UN is engaged in a variety of ongoing efforts to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but such work is met with fierce opposition by countries who believe such an effort is infringing upon their moral standards. Many proposed resolutions only narrowly passed in close votes. In June 2011, the HRC adopted its resolution on “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity,” the first UN resolution where states directly express their concern for growing persecution and discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity. This paved the way for further action in 2014 and 2016. Again by fairly narrow votes, the HRC adopted additional resolutions providing further protections for LGBT persons and their sexual rights. Nevertheless, today, a number of states still criminalize same-sex relationships and/or sexual activity. Various punishments are still enforced around the world, ranging from fines, imprisonment, and re-education programs, to in some cases “corrective” rape, and even the death penalty. Sometimes, these punishments are handed down by government authorities, while in other cases, they are carried out by families or local elders, with the implicit permission of government and police officials.
The job of this committee will be to further discuss how the HRC can better prevent discrimination and persecution, in keeping with the UN Charter and the UDHR. While the countries that actively discriminate against and persecute individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity are certainly in the minority, there are also a number of countries that do not actively combat discrimination and proactively protect LGBT persons, essentially permitting such discrimination. The HRC must find a way to better enforce the measures it has already taken, and then consider which additional measures may be necessary.