• Australia recently joined the core group on LGBT+ issues at the United Nations. (AAP)
LGBT+ diplomacy is passionately contested, especially in the UN Human Rights Council.
By
Ben Winsor

9 Aug 2016 - 12:29 PM  UPDATED 9 Aug 2016 - 8:50 PM

With LGBTQIA+ rights gaining ground across the world, diplomats at the United Nations are increasingly debating international resolutions on LGBT+ issues. 

A significant group of countries have even formed an “LGBT Core Group” to push for LGBT+ rights to remain on the UN’s agenda. 

While participation varies, the core group currently includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Colombia, Chile, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Japan, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the United States and Uruguay. The 28-member-state European Union is also a participant. 

Last year, Albania joined under the newly created status of ‘observer,’ making it the first majority-Muslim participant.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is a strong supporter of the push. Addressing a meeting of the group last year, he said he was grateful to every member. 

“You stand with me in defending human rights for all people,” he said. “Thanks to you, the United Nations is moving closer to fulfilling the mission entrusted to us 70 years ago.”

“I say to members of the LGBT community: the United Nations will always stand with you in your fight for recognition, respect and rights,” he said. 

Not every country welcomes the push for LGBT+ rights, however.

In 2008, 57 countries signed a statement in opposition to a General Assembly declaration in support of LGBT rights. The vast majority of those countries were in Africa and the Middle East and several are on the UN Human Rights Council. 

Intended to be the world’s foremost human rights body, the council is hotly divided on LGBTQIA+ issues. 

The council is made up of 47 member states which serve three year terms on rotation. 

They are elected by the full United Nations General Assembly which fills seats according to regional quotas (13 for Africa, 13 for Asia, six for Eastern Europe, eight for Latin America and the Caribbean and seven for the Western European and Others Group).

The quota system and the election process often throw up surprises. 

For example, while members of the council are supposed to uphold the "highest standards" in the promotion and protection of human rights, serial human rights offender Saudi Arabia is currently serving the third year of its term.

The most recent insight into where member sates are positioned on LGBT+ rights came in a vote in late June, when the council narrowly endorsed a resolution to create an independent UN LGBT Rights Watchdog.

Supported by Australia and the US – neither currently members of the council – the resolution passed with 23 votes for and 18 votes against, with six abstentions. 

European and Latin American countries were in strong support while the Asia Pacific was split.

Governments from African and majority-Muslim countries made up most of the negative votes, with the exception of Albania which voted in support of the resolution.

“The protection from violence and discrimination for LGBTI people has been, and remains, one of the priorities for the Albanian government,” Albanian representative Dilloreta Korda said.

Saudi Arabia strongly opposed the resolution, trying numerous times to weaken and defeat the text. 

“[This is a] polarising and deeply divisive proposal that does not realise the cultural differences and the diverse system that exists between our countries,” representative Faisal Bin Hassan Trad said. 

Russia sided with Saudi Arabia. Representative Natalia Zolotova said that thousands of years of human advancement had been achieved without allowing for people to make the “choice” to pursue a “certain model of personal relationships.”

“Introducing new grounds for such discrimination would only cause problems and confrontation in the Human Rights Council,” representative Zolotova said. 

Gay rights activists march in Russia's second city of St. Petersburg May 1, 2013, during their rally against a controversial law in the city that

Nigeria was also strongly opposed. “[Universal human rights] cannot afford to be hijacked by certain state to promote certain attitudes that are offensive to other states. Nigeria has legislated against LGBT,” representative Peters Omologbe Emuze said.

Here’s how all the government representatives lined up.

Those for the resolution included Albania, Belgium, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Macedonia, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, UK, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Those against the resolution included Algeria, Bangladesh, Burundi, China, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Morocco, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Togo and the United Arab Emirates.

The six abstentions were Botswana, Ghana, India, Namibia, Philippines and South Africa.

Despite hard fought opposition, the resolution passed.

“This is a big deal,” said Charles Radcliffe according to the New York Times. The chief of global issues from the office of the Hight Commissioner for Human Rights said it was a significant advancement. 

“Ten years ago, you hardly heard the words ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ at the UN,” Mr Radcliffe said. 

More than 75 governments still have anti-LGBT laws on the books, the majority of which are in Africa, the Middle East and Southern Asia.

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