United States representative to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, chaired a historic Arria-Formula UN Security Council meeting marking the second time in history the UNSC convened to discuss issues specific to LGBTQ+ issues. The meeting, co-hosted by twelve other nations and a multinational group called the UN LGBTI Core Group, which includes Italy, was held at the ECOSOC auditorium to address mounting concerns regarding the security and safety of individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ in the context of peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Arria-Formula meetings convene when Security Council member states call for a meeting outside of the formal agenda in which all 15 members are encouraged, but not required, to attend while also allowing the attendance of non-state actors, individuals, and organizations. At Monday’s meeting, all UNSC member countries except for Gabon and Mozambique issued remarks.
The meeting presented a tangible sense of urgency calling for such matters to be addressed in the Security Council. “The threats that LGBTQI people face are threats to international peace and security”, stated Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield representing the United States: “Everyone deserves to live free from fear, from violence, from persecution. But for too many people, their sexual orientation or gender identity puts them at risk – they are put at risk just for being themselves.” She then proposed four commitments to foster more inclusive and productive measures to address concerns around the peace and safety of LGBTQ+ individuals in the Security Council’s daily work.
The United States committed to regularly review the situation around LGBTQ+ communities in conflicts on the Council’s agenda, to encourage the UN Secretariat and other UN officials to collect data and integrate LGBTQ+ concerns into reports, to raising abuses and human rights violations of LGBTQ+ people to the council, and finally, to propose language in Security Council products in response to LGBTQ+ individuals’ needs. At the Security Council stakeout, before the meeting, U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons, Jessica Stern told reporters: “The Security Council has been one of the last bastions of silence on LGBTI issues.”
Many Council member nations shared sentiments urging LGBTQ+ matters to be addressed as individuals of this, like all marginalized communities, are at heightened risk of their safety and security being jeopardized. The Security Council’s duty is to maintain international peace and security and the LGBTQ+ community faces one of the greatest threats to safety worldwide. The many nations who banded with the rhetoric delivered in United States’ statement agreed greater visibility and integration of LGBTQ+ individuals’ rights are paramount to establishing global peace. “What is true in times of peace is exacerbated in times of conflict”. The representative of Switzerland pointed out the situations in countries with historically poor human rights policies should be especially monitored. While buzzwords such as inclusion and diversity were abundantly tossed around, many called for concrete action such as performing quantitative analysis and data collection of the situation on the ground to integrate into the work and policies enacted by Security Council.
While the call to action was largely shared among attending parties, the geopolitics were arguably even more monumental and, at certain points, overshadowed the meeting. Perhaps the Arria-formula meeting was convened to additionally underline the division between the United States and China and Russia, which seemingly infiltrates every aspect of present-day diplomacy. The divide was not spared in this instance. While both latter nations spoke, China refused to comment on the meeting’s subject, instead focusing on national security, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, gang violence in Haiti, and hazy “political agendas”. On the other hand, Russia, with a fairly dismal track record on LGBTQ+ rights, decided to speak directly on the matter. “Sexual orientation is the individual choice”, the representative of Russia (Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia was not present and neither was the deputy Dmitry Polyanskiy) preached with similar disapproval as presented by China: “Not one of the human rights agreements singles them out as a group that requires particular protection. We do not recognize such a mandate established by the Human Rights Council. We are not at the Human Rights Council. We are not at a Third Committee meeting.”
One of the key principles at the UN, and of the Security Council is to leave no one behind. Briefing the Council for the first time ever, Víctor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN’s Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), opened with addressing the blind spot in international law’s protection of LGBTQ+ individuals. He cited the “weaponization of prejudice” and claimed that “discrimination is used to subjugate communities”. He urged the effective participation of LGBTQ-led and LGBTQ-serving as they are key in generating change.
Borloz’s speech was followed by Artemis Akbary, founder and director of Afghan LGBT Organization, who spoke on his own heroic journey to safety after leaving Afghanistan at a young age to escape the Taliban. “I grew up in Iran as a refugee”. He stressed that everyone has the right to life and security which is an ever more dire situation considering many totalitarian regimes’ human rights policies are regressing and establishing further efforts to identify and prosecute LGTBQ+ individuals. “I am a survivor not because I am brave, I am a survivor because I was lucky.” Homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran.
The third and final person to brief the Council was lawyer and literature scholar of the peace and transitional justice team at Colombia Diversa, Susana Peralta Ramón. “Peace has to have room for all”. She highlighted that discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals is “useful for all armed actors to advance war. There is a previous social discourse about who is worthy and who is not. This creates a group of bodies available to be attacked.” The representative of Colombia, Ambassador Leonor Zalabata Torres, who is the first indigenous ambassador appointed at the UN, fervently echoed Peralta Ramón’s briefing condemning the international community’s inaction to help the LGBTQ+ community. “International peace and security cannot be ensured while marginalization and discrimination, hate and prejudice, remain in the way.” In her speech, she expressed fear of differences, of what is seemingly different, is often the greatest perpetrator in unleashing the most vicious acts of violence. Both Zalabata Torres and Peralta Ramón urged other nations to follow in Colombia’s footsteps to include a transversal gender approach in peace agreements which promotes intersectionality and protection for LGBTQ+ individuals..
The elephant in the room in the two hour-long meeting was whether the Security Council is the appropriate venue to discuss the protections of a historically neglected and marginalized community. While there are more specific organizations within the United Nations dedicated to addressing specific human rights issues, if women, children, and those with disabilities receive special attention and protections within the Security Council as they are highly vulnerable groups, why should it be any different for LGBTQ+ individuals? Contrary to Russia’s statement, integrating human rights of LGBTQ+ Persons into the UN Security Council’s work would not water down peace efforts and “erode access” to all civilians. It would most likely have the opposite effect by bringing the world closer to peace and holding nations and their leaders accountable for their actions. It would be another step closer to ensuring the protection, safety, and justice for all.
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