Suriname’s government is on the right track at home when it comes to protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination and violence. In 2015, the government introduced antidiscrimination legislation, including sexual orientation on grounds for nondiscrimination complaints. The government also understands that it needs to protect the rights of same-sex couples living in Suriname. The Suriname justice minister, Dr. Jennifer van Dijk-Silos, recently organized several public hearings in collaboration with civil society in the country to discuss expanding the rights of LGBT people.
So far, good news.
But abroad, Suriname is playing a completely different tune. Let’s analyze two recent votes at the United Nations.
On Nov. 21, a General Assembly committee affirmed that the newly appointed UN expert to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity could continue his work. The proposal was submitted by Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Costa Rica, countries close to Suriname in many ways.
The UN Human Rights Council created the position of independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity in June to assess implementation of existing international human rights law, identify best practices and gaps, raise awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as engage in dialogue and consultation with countries and other stakeholders. The position also facilitates provision of advisory services, technical assistance, capacity building and cooperation to help address violence and discrimination on these grounds.
The appointment of this international expert is in line with Suriname’s policy to protect LGBT people against violence and discrimination. In fact, shortly before the vote, 850 nongovernmental organizations from 156 countries around the world, including Suriname, called on the UN to take a principled stand that LGBT rights are human rights and need to be protected.
But what did Suriname do on Nov. 21? It voted against!
Was this a mistake and did the deputy ambassador press the wrong button during the voting procedure? Unfortunately not.
A few days earlier, on Nov. 18, there was another vote at the UN. The General Assembly voted on a resolution urging all countries to protect everyone’s right to life and calling upon countries to investigate hate killings. The resolution included killings based on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
A no-brainer for Suriname. Suriname, however, voted to delete the part of the resolution about sexual orientation and gender identity!
It joined the ranks of countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Sudan. Suriname is member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. But that should not be a reason to sell out on its principles of equal rights and nondiscrimination. Albania and Turkey, for instance, are also member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and vote consistently against its proposals. They join the countries that respect human rights for all.
But it is not too late.
Later this month, Suriname might get a second chance, when a new proposal to postpone the mandate of the independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity is expected to be submitted and voted upon. This time, the government of Suriname can show the rest of the world it takes protection of human rights for everyone seriously. The world is watching.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
Boris Dittrich is the LGBT rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
Faisel Tjon-A-Loi is the chairman of the LGBT platform of Suriname.