Feature story

UN Secretary-General speaks against discrimination based on sexual orientation

30 January 2012

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the 18th annual meeting of the African Union. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Credit: UNAIDS/J.Ose

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the need to anchor Africa’s development to the respect for human rights. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a promise to all people in all places at all times,” said Mr Ban at the 18th annual meeting of the African Union.

Mr Ban noted that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is one of the injustices that has been ignored or even sanctioned by many States. “This has prompted some governments to treat people as second-class citizens, or even criminals. Confronting this discrimination is a challenge. But we must live up to the ideals of the Universal Declaration,” said Mr Ban.

Currently, an estimated 76 countries and areas worldwide have laws that criminalize same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults––five impose the death penalty. UNAIDS considers the criminalization of people based on their sexual orientation a denial of human rights and a threat to public health in the context of the HIV response. Such discriminatory laws drive people underground and create obstacles for people accessing HIV services.

Countries such as the US and UK have already modified their provision of foreign aid to ensure that the rights of sexual minorities are being respected. These countries will use their assistance to protect human rights and advance non-discrimination, and will work with international organizations to end discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a promise to all people in all places at all times

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

In 2009 the Delhi High Court overturned a law that criminalized consensual adult sexual behaviour. This stand was also supported by the Government of India in its affidavit filed with the Supreme Court. But not all countries are following India’s approach.

In June 2010, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with the support of the UNAIDS Secretariat, launched the Global Commission on HIV and the Law. The Commission’s aim is to increase understanding of the impact of the legal environment on national HIV responses. Its aim is to focus on how laws and law enforcement can support, rather than block, effective HIV responses.

UNAIDS urges all governments to ensure full respect for the human rights of men who have sex with men, lesbians and transgendered people through repealing laws that prohibit sexual acts between consenting adults in private; enforcing laws to protect these groups from violence and discrimination; promoting campaigns that address homophobia and transphobia; and ensuring that crucial health needs are met.