THE SECRETARY-GENERAL -- Message to event on ending violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

New York, 8 December 2011

Delivered by Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

            I am pleased to greet participants attending this event on the homophobic bullying of young people and associated violence and discrimination. Let me offer a special word of thanks to the human rights defenders in the audience.

Like many of you, I continue to be dismayed at reports of children as young as eleven being subjected to sustained verbal abuse, taunting and serious physical attacks because of their presumed sexual orientation or gender identity.

Bullying of this kind is not restricted to a few countries but goes on in schools and local communities in all parts of the world.  It affects young people all the way through to adulthood, causing enormous and unnecessary suffering.  Bullied children may become depressed and drop out of school.  Some are even driven to suicide.

This is a moral outrage, a grave violation of human rights and a public health crisis.  It is also a loss for the entire human family when promising lives are cut short. Consider the case of Matthew Shepard, whose mother is participating in today’s event.  A student of political science who spoke several languages and travelled abroad, he might well have contributed to the work of the United Nations.  The tragic death of this young person and countless others diminishes us all.

We often think about homophobic bullying as a problem specific to school settings and adolescence.  But the roots go deeper; they lie in prevailing harmful attitudes in society at large, sometimes encouraged by divisive public figures and discriminatory laws and practices sanctioned by State authorities.

Tackling this problem is a shared challenge.  We all have a role, whether as parents, family members, teachers, neighbours, community leaders, journalists, religious figures or public officials.

But it is also, for States, a matter of legal obligation.  Under international human rights law, all States must take the necessary measures to protect people – all people – from violence and discrimination, including on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

I hope that your discussions today will further the international dialogue on this important issue and raise greater awareness of the need for change.  I look forward to working with all partners to protect young people from harm and uphold human rights for all.

Please accept my best wishes for a successful event.