In an unexpected defeat for homosexual advocates, the United Nations General Assembly (GA) voted to delete a reference to a highly controversial interpretation of a major UN human rights treaty.
The UN committee that monitors the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (ICESCR) took it upon itself last summer to reinterpret the treaty to say that “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” are new categories of non-discrimination and that nations are bound by international law to recognize.
Pro-homosexual delegations attempted to retain a reference to this interpretation – called General Comment 20 – in a UN resolution last week. The reference was first debated over a month ago in the Third Committee of the GA and passed by a single vote, setting up last week’s debate in the full body of the GA. The revote was significant, as it is rare that the GA will step in to reconsider language passed by a subsidiary body.
Iraq, on behalf of the Arab group, led the opposition to General Comment 20 and called for its deletion because it deals with the “contentious concepts” of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The Iraqi representative stressed that it was “of paramount importance to make it clear that international agreements should not be strangely interpreted.”
Finland, the main sponsor of the resolution, said that it was disappointed that the Arab group was attempting to amend the resolution and did not respect the decision of the Third Committee. She stated that the call for the deletion of the reference to General Comment 20 was “a strong signal of distrust on the expert work of the committee.”
The representative from Finland appealed to member states to “assess the merits of the text of the General Comment as a whole” and not just on one reference to “sexual orientation.” She insisted that general comments were to “assist” states in implementing their treaty obligations and that they did not impose obligations. The Finnish representative argued that a deletion of a reference to General Comment 20 would represent a great loss for efforts to enhance human rights.
Finland pleaded, “Are we really prepared to say in this august body that we are not even able to take note of a General Comment that includes such an important message on the importance of the realization of economic, social and cultural rights?”
Critics, however, highlight the dangers posed by this latest attempt to expand the list of non-discrimination categories to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” – which have never been included in any binding UN document and which have never been defined by the GA, leaving them open to broad interpretation by UN agencies, committees and radical NGOs.
Prior to the GA vote, pro-family organizations lobbied against the reference to General Comment 20, noting that “sexual orientation and gender identity” are not recognized and defined in international law. They warned that these could be used to impose limitations on freedoms of speech, religion and conscience, as well as marriage laws and school curricula. Already in Sweden and Canada, clergy have been brought before human rights commissions for criticizing homosexual behavior.
Another troublesome provision of General Comment 20 is a reference to the highly controversial, non-binding Yogyakarta Principles, a document which seeks to reinterpret existing human rights to include homosexual rights. The Yogyakarta Principles have no legal standing and were written by activists and UN bureaucrats.
The final vote for removing the reference was 76 nations in favor, 72 opposed, with 26 abstentions. Support for removal came mostly from the Arab and African nations with opposition being led by the Europeans. With the closeness of the vote, it is expected that “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” will continue to roil the world body.