No Guarantees for LGBT Rights in New UN Development Goals

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D. | January 22, 2015

NEW YORK, January 23 (C-Fam) The new UN development agenda is silent about individuals that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual, but the United Kingdom wants to change that.

The Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the United Nations told non-governmental organizations LGBT rights would be part of the new UN development goals ahead of negotiations for the overhaul of the UN development system at UN headquarters this week.

Governments and UN bureaucrats outlined differing visions for the new global development agenda this week during a first round of negotiations at UN headquarters. The post-2015 development agenda, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals, will go into effect next January. This week countries met to broadly outline their positions and kick off the negotiations.

As expected, countries did not deal much with the substance of the new agenda, and LGBT rights did not come into the conversation. This troubles advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGTB) rights, who were at UN headquarters Friday last week to protest during a forum for non-governmental organizations. The groups have gained visibility in recent years following the creation of new funding streams for their activities by the United States and the European Union.

A key element of the new agenda will be the institutional mechanism for monitoring progress on a new set of sustainable development goals, which will very likely be housed within the UN Economic and Social Council. But implementation and review will be a voluntary state-led process. This is especially troubling to LGBT groups because they have yet to gain a normative footing at the United Nations.

When prodded about the issue during the forum, the Kenyan ambassador who is chairing the negotiations for the post-2015 development agenda offered no guarantees that LGBT rights would find a place in the new development agenda, reiterating instead that implementation and review of the agenda will be country led.

His British counterpart at the same event sought to reassure LGBT groups by saying that LGBT concerns will be addressed indirectly under the rubric of “sexual and reproductive health and rights” a controversial term that is currently not part of the agreed goals and targets because it has never been defined in UN policy. Advocacy groups include issues like abortion on demand and LGBT rights under the term.

A controversial report of the Secretary General published in December employed the controversial term instead of the language agreed in the goals last year by the General Assembly, and suggested that countries should listen to LGBT groups.

The overhaul will establish universal goals for social, economic, and environmental issues—unlike previous development frameworks that focused on helping poor countries achieve a basic level of development. Seventeen goals and 169 targets for action agreed last year by the General Assembly are the starting point of the negotiations.

The agenda includes social issues like tackling poverty and hunger, improving health and education, but also claims to drive economic growth while addressing environmental concerns like climate change, deforestation, and marine degradation.

Only a few governments question the usefulness of such an approach. On Tuesday, Canada argued the agenda should focus on the “poorest of the poor” and on fewer goals and targets. But their view is not resonating with other delegations, each wanting their concerns to remain in the spotlight.

For most countries what remains to be decided is how the agreed goals will be implemented and how progress on the goals will be judged, with a sharp divide between developed and developing countries. Bu there is a lingering disagreement over the level of involvement the Secretary General and the vast UN bureaucracy he commands should have in designing the new development framework.

In the December report, the Secretary General suggested the UN bureaucracy should conduct a “technical review” of each goal and target before the development agenda is finalized. He also proposed a reorganization of the goals through 6 “essential elements.”

These actions are widely seen as an intrusion on the prerogative of UN member states to design and decide on the new development agenda. The Group of 77 and China, a bloc of 137 developing countries, delivered stern statements saying the goals “should not be revised behind closed doors by a handful of selected experts.”

The UN bureaucracy’s involvement in developing data and indicators to monitor the goals and targets is widely accepted, so long as countries are able to choose indicators at a national level.

Uncertainty about the details of the post-2015 development agenda will persist until July when an international conference on financing for development will finish. The success of the new agenda rides on reaching that agreement.

A first draft of the new development agenda is expected by May. The document must be finalized by the end of September, when world leaders will come to the UN to adopt the post-2015 development agenda.