WASHINGTON, D. C. — Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, has articulated an ambitious blueprint for the American presidency of the UN Security Council this month. One pillar of the US approach will be what she called an “unprecedented” thematic session on human rights to enable the achievement of international peace and security.
We applaud this link: human-rights violations, including against persecuted minorities such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, drive conflicts that can threaten international peace and security. That driver is the Council’s business to address.
Over the last decade, the Council has made progress from earlier debates when it rejected addressing conflicts in Myanmar and Zimbabwe as internal matters that did not implicate international security. The rise in human-rights abuses in Burundi last year, which threatened a fragile peace accord between the two main ethnic groups, prompted urgent briefings from UN human-rights officials, followed by a Council statement calling on the government to renew cooperation with UN human-rights monitors.
After a UN commission of inquiry on North Korea declared that the regime was responsible for crimes against humanity, the Council elevated the matter to its regular agenda.
Advances toward mainstreaming human rights on the Security Council’s agenda, however, remain highly contentious. Despite the brutal military attacks against the minority Rohingya population in Myanmar this year, China — backed by Russia — blocked a joint statement calling on the government to stop it. Even the recent horrendous photos of Syrian children most likely killed by Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons could not avoid a Russia-led veto at the Council.
When the Council meets on April 18, permanent and nonpermanent members alike should explicitly acknowledge threats to the rights of LGBTI people. After all, if members of one vulnerable group are not guaranteed the same fundamental rights of equality and nondiscrimination as any other group, we are all at risk of greater violence and conflict.
Unfortunately, immediate challenges to the basic rights of the LGBTI community are not difficult to find throughout the world, but they are usually obscured by other crises. Deeply disturbing reports are emerging from the Chechnya region in Russia of a state-sponsored “prophylactic purge” targeting gay men (or those perceived as gay) with alleged arbitrary detention, torture and executions. On April 1, an official for the Chechen government issued a chilling response to questions about these developments, saying: “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic.”
On April 7, Mark Toner, the acting US State Department spokesman, issued a statement noting that the US was “increasingly concerned about the situation” and urged Russian federal officials to carry out an “independent and credible” investigation into the matter. Five UN independent human-rights monitors also released a joint statement declaring, “These are acts of persecution and violence on an unprecedented scale in the region, and constitute serious violations of the obligations of the Russian Federation under international human rights law.”
Catalyzing an LGBTI-inclusive dialogue at the Security Council will reinforce international legal scaffolding protecting people from violence and discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The dialogue would build on, for example, the groundbreaking statement the Council made after the Pulse massacre in Orlando, Fla., in June 2016, which bridged violence based on sexual orientation to matters of global peace and security.
In August 2015, Security Council members gathered for a meeting led by the US and Chile on the targeting of LGBTI people by the terrorist group ISIS. Just last year, the top human-rights body at the UN, the Human Rights Council, appointed an independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity to monitor violence and discrimination.
Despite major setbacks on the battlefield, ISIS has continued an aggressive campaign of extrajudicial killings against gay people. More than 70 countries still have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relationships, even though such regulations seed discrimination and increase social conflict. The recent US travel bans, though banned, have heightened uncertainty for LGBTI refugees seeking protection from antigay state and nonstate actors.
The “historic” hearing on human rights at the UN’s top organ on April 18 calls for bold leadership that promotes the straightforward truth that it is unacceptable to violate the rights of individuals based on who they are or who they love. Countries that stand for the cause of universal human rights should band together and take a stand for LGBTI people at the Security Council.
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Ryan Kaminski is the senior program manager for human rights at the United Nations Association of the USA. Ted Piccone is a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.