IHRP Students Attend Historic UN Session on LGBT Rights

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Zahra Ahmed (LLM) and Atrisha Lewis (3L)

March 2012 – This Spring, as part of the IHRP clinic, we travelled to Geneva to attend the 19th session of the United Nations Human Right Council.   Together, we attended a historic panel on discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The panel was historic simply because it happened. It was the first time that there was a discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) rights during an open session at the UN.   

The panel, which was sponsored by Brazil and South Africa, arose out of UN Human Rights Council resolution 17/19 (June 2011) expressing “grave concern” at acts of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The resolution requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, to prepare a report on “how international human rights law can be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” and called for a panel discussion at this (19th) session of the Human Rights Council to discuss the findings of the report in a “constructive, informed and transparent dialogue.”

In support of Pillay’s report, a panel of experts presented their views.  Along with Pillay, the panel included the President of the Human Rights Council, HE Laura Dupuy Lasserre, as well as the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.  It also included high profile academic, activists, and government officials from Brazil, the United States, Pakistan, and the Council of Europe.

SOGI rights remain contentious internationally as 71 countries still criminalize homosexuality or homosexual acts. The hostility was apparent at the panel as hostile States walked out in apparent protest, refusing to even engage in dialogue. 

Beyond the panel, while in Geneva, we had the opportunity to interview NGOs from around the world, and engage in discussions with UN Officials including former Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Hina Jillani.  We also had an opportunity to observe strategic planning meetings of SOGI supporting NGOs, which was a unique inside view of human rights advocacy at the global level.

“This was a unique experience that gave me insight into the inner workings of the Untied Nations as well as the challenges of multilateral debate.” Zahra Ahmed (LL.M)

 “It was fantastic that as a third year law student I had the opportunity to have a backstage view to the inner workings of UN advocacy.” Atrisha Lewis (3L)