France to Push Homosexual Rights at the UN General Assembly

Rama Yade, France’s Junior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, this week announced that her country intends to submit a draft “declaration” calling for the global decriminalization of “homosexuality” at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in December. She made the statement at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, which is hosting the 61st annual conference of non-governmental organizations.

Rama YadeMs. Yade cited France’s commitment to combat “homophobia” as part of a campaign to advance “universal” human rights. France holds the six-month European Union (EU) presidency through the end of the year, and thus will be able to speak on behalf of the 25 countries of the EU at the UN.  

The announcement does not come as a surprise. French delegates had indicated at the UN High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS this past June that France would seek to advance homosexual rights globally while holding the EU presidency.

What is unusual, however, is bringing the issue directly to the General Assembly without first introducing it in the Third Committee – one of six committees of the General Assembly, also known as the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee – where measures on social issues typically arise. Third Committee debates on issues like sexual orientation and abortion tend to be contentious, with language extensively negotiated.

A delegate from a country that consistently votes against attempts to advance a pro-homosexual agenda told the Friday Fax that France was unlikely to have the votes to secure a resolution in the Third Committee, and thus is instead introducing a “political declaration” – distinct from either a “resolution” or a “declaration” – which need not be voted upon. Any member state can propose a political declaration, which other countries may then join, before sending it to the Secretary General.

The delegate added that though political declarations are nonbinding, they may reappear in a more definitive format later. Thus a resolution on the Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty, which passed the Third Committee last year, first appeared under the guise of General Assembly political declaration.

Currently, an estimated 90 countries throughout the world criminalize sodomy.  It is expected that this action by France and other like minded states will touted by proponents as an action of the General Assembly which would be false. The document would also be touted by advocates as a development of a soft law norm that signals a movement by states toward a rights-based acceptance of homosexual conduct. The United States Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas, for example, cited the emergence of new norms internationally in striking down state anti-sodomy laws.

Ms. Yade appears to be the French government’s point woman in advancing this agenda.  Born in 1976 in Senegal and raised in Paris suburbs, she is a member of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s political party, the conservative Union pour un Movement Populaire, or UMP, and a protégé of the President. 

This past year there have been several calls at the UN for nations to repeal anti-sodomy statutes, most notably at the UN High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS.

(Stefan C. Ulrich co-authored this article.)

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