Nations Rap UN “Gender-as-Social-Construct” Rapporteur

A host of nations lined up this week to criticize a special report on “gender-based human rights abuses in counterterrorism measures” for pushing a notion of gender as a fluid social construct and advancing a United Nations (UN) “gay rights” document known as the Yogyakarta Principles rather than focusing on the assigned task of examining the abuse of women caught up in the global “war on terror.”

Dubbed an “interactive discussion” with UN Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin, criticism from the Organization of Islamic Countries and the African Group, delivered by Malaysia and Tanzania, respectively, rapped Scheinin for exceeding his mandate in violation of the Human Rights Council’s Code of Conduct. According to the African Group, Scheinin misused his position to advance the controversial Yogyakarta Principles, a statement purporting to “reflect the existing state of human rights law” concerning “sexual orientation and gender identity.” Scheinin was one of about thirty self-selected “experts” who crafted the Yogyakarta Principles in 2007.

In response, Scheinin defended his use of the Yogyakarta Principles as “fully legitimate,” calling it a “soft law” document that “enriches” ones understanding of binding human rights norms. One delegate, in remarks to the Friday Fax, discounted the “soft law” claim, pointing out that there is no international consensus on sexual orientation as a non-discrimination category and no binding legal obligation.

A statement by the Caribbean nation of Saint Lucia took Scheinin to task for departing from the agreed-upon definition of gender in the Beijing Platform for Action and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, both of which affirm the traditional understanding of the term. The United States (US) delegation, signaling continuity with Bush Administration policy, also supported the Beijing usage, while adding that the US was interested in the effect counterterrorism efforts had on the “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.” The Rome Statute defines gender as “the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society,” and the Beijing document affirms the “ordinary, generally accepted usage” of the term.

The Holy See restated that “gender is grounded in biological sexual identity, male or female,” and rejected “the notion that sexual identity can be adopted indefinitely.” India, which seldom speaks on such divisive social issues, faulted the Special Rapporteur for redefining “gender perspective,” and for taking the committee into an “academic” debate removed from his mandate.

Scheinin had his defenders as well, particularly among European nations and certain Latin American countries such as Uruguay and Chile. Norway expressed “full support” for the report and welcomed Scheinin’s elastic gender construct. Switzerland scolded those nations who attacked the special rapporteur because they did not agree with his submission, adding that they must comply with any subsequent resolutions based on his report.

One delegate critical of the “arrogance” of Scheinin and his European supporters summed up the exchange by saying “Basically, they are allowed to criticize us, but we are not allowed to criticize them. They are gods.”

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