U.S. Uses UN Mechanism to Pressure Countries on Homosexuality

By | August 8, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 9 (C-Fam) The U.S. State Department is using a little-known UN mechanism to pressure governments to change their laws on sexual practices related to “sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The mechanism is the relatively new Universal Periodic Review (UPR) whereby governments criticize each other on human rights matters. The U.S. is demanding more than decriminalization.

In November 2018, the U.S. recommended that Belize enforce legal protections for LGBTI individuals, and address “discrimination such as in housing, employment, and government services.”

The previous year, the U.S. called on Japan and Korea to “implement comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation to protect and promote the rights of LGBTI persons.”  The U.S. also applauded Botswana in January 2018 for court rulings “affirming the rights of transgender persons” and affirmed New Zealand’s “efforts…to advance the human rights of LGBTI persons globally” earlier this year.

All told, the U.S. has issued UPR recommendations to 17 countries on homosexuality since the election of President Trump.  During the eight years of the Obama administration, there were 64 instances.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity” (SOGI) is not a category of non-discrimination in U.S. law.  In fact, the so-called Equality Act, which would create such a category, has never passed out of the Congress. At the international level, governments have never agreed to create a category for SOGI.

The purpose of the UPR is to support the fulfillment of countries’ human rights obligations and offer encouragement and best practices toward that end.  However, as Swiss human rights lawyer Walter Kälin wrote, “the UPR provides states with an opportunity to promote rights that have not yet found universal recognition in the hopes that they will be increasingly accepted by the international community.” As an example of this, Kälin cites “Western states […] using the UPR to promote [SOGI] by regularly making corresponding recommendations.”

While issues such as abortion and SOGI have arisen in the UPR, they make up a small minority of the total recommendations received by countries and reflect the priorities of a small minority of all member states.

In the two completed cycles of the UPR, as well as the third cycle, which is halfway completed, between twelve and twenty countries account for over eighty percent of all mentions of SOGI.  Since the launch of the UPR in 2008, and during both the Obama and Trump administrations, the United States has always been part of that minority.

While the U.S. continues to build the case at the UN for novel interpretations of human rights, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced a new Commission on Unalienable Rights, to ensure “that human rights discourse not be corrupted or hijacked,” in light of widespread confusion as to the definition of human rights.  LGBT activists expressed concern that the new commission would represent a pushback on SOGI in U.S. foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State has been careful—even conservative—in interpreting its own human rights obligations.  When it announced its support of language on “sexual rights” under President Obama in 2015, the statement asserted that the U.S. did not view such rights as legally binding.