The U.S. upped the stakes on international LGBT rights by raising the issue in an informal briefing on Monday at UN headquarters. But an LGBT advocate criticized it as pandering that could cost lives.
“It’s a good deal for LGBT [groups] based in New York or Geneva. They get recognition, and with it funding and power. It’s not always good for LGBT people on the ground who face danger,” wrote Scott Long, an architect of the international LGBT movement. “And they can be reviled, punished, killed in consequence.”
Member States were briefed on the situation of individuals who identify as homosexual in ISIS controlled territories. A grim picture of 30 public executions and persecution from police and family members emerged.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power emerged from the closed-door meeting with Subhi Nahas, a self-identifying gay man from Syria who spoke to the group of states. The U.S, Department of State billed the meeting as the “first ever Security Council meeting on LGBT rights” though it was not a formal meeting of the most powerful body at the UN. Nor was it held in the Security Council chambers.
Power called it “moving.” The former journalist who advocates for military intervention to prevent human rights abuses asked journalists to give more coverage to LGBT issues at the UN.
“Today’s meeting is a sign this issue is getting injected into the UN. Seventy years into UN history, the last five years have seen some very important milestones,” she began.
Power promised to “inject” LGBT rights into the “DNA of the UN” and get other countries to do so —alluding to how no foundational UN document or treaties or resolutions include “sexual orientation and gender identity” as a protected category in human rights law. Though attempts have been made to include it, they have been roundly rejected. In fact, the term has only been included in a few UN documents. Even so, Power said the informal meeting was a “small but historic step.”
Even though “sexual orientation and gender identity” are not a specifically protected category in human rights law, the people killed by ISIS are covered in human rights law because they are human beings. It is clear ISIS violates their human rights by killing them as innocent people.
The closed-door meeting hosted by Chile and the U.S. followed the “Arria-formula,” described as “very informal, confidential gatherings which enable Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views” informed by reports and testimonies.
When asked about raising the issue in a formal way, Power suggested that informal meetings like Monday’s briefing were possible.
Power tried to bolster the case that LGBT rights are progressing at the UN by recalling a 2010 resolution that mentions “sexual orientation.” That resolution was only adopted following a vote, and opposition to including the term has grown steadily since then. She also mentioned a Human Rights Council resolution, which merely requested a report from the UN bureaucracy, and has only tenuous support among UN member states.
“Publicizing [that] report is very important,” she said, adding that journalists should “lift and amplify it.”
LGBT rights are “not an issue by any means confined to ISIS,” Power said, lamenting societies that are “unwelcoming” or “criminalize LGBT status.”
Power pledged to raise LGBT rights every time ISIS comes up at the Security Council, and “look at how LGBT persons are being treated in other conflict areas.”
The Obama administration’s approach is a bad idea according to Scott Long.
ISIS thrives on exerting power, he notes. To perpetrate “a killing campaign that’s been publicly deplored by powerful states in far New York affirms the movement’s own claim to power.”
“Discussions aren’t ‘historic.’ Change is,” he wrote. “It’s cruel to LGBT people whose lives are at risk to celebrate so gushingly a discussion that has little chance of leading to change.”
The “Obama administration has no real way to counter ISIS’s killings of LGBT people, or most other human rights abuses the group commits,” Long said.