Press briefing notes: International Day Against Homophobia, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Nigeria

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 17 May 2013
1) International Day Against Homophobia
2) Bangladesh
3) Papua New Guinea
4) Indonesia
5) Nigeria

1) International Day Against Homophobia

Today is the International Day against Homophobia, a day that has grown in significance in recent years for millions of people around the world.

To mark the date, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is delivering a speech later today in The Hague which will highlight the progress made over the past 20 years in combatting violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex people. She will also point out how much remains to be done to achieve a world where everyone is free, equal and respected.

The fact that States are divided on these issues is not, the High Commissioner says, a reason to hold back from speaking out for fear of controversy. Rather, the abuse still suffered by LGBT people makes it all the more important to speak out.

In 2011, 85 States signed a statement expressing their concern at human rights violations perpetrated against LGBT people, and the UN Human Rights Council adopted the first ever resolution to specifically address the issue.

Last year, the UN Human Rights Office produced a guide to LGBT rights entitled “Born Free and “Equal” that sets out States’ core legal obligations.

LGBT issues are no longer taboo at the United Nations, but the struggle for full equality for LGBT people continues.

The High Commissioner has highlighted three particular areas of concern:

· homophobic and transphobic hate crimes which take place with alarming regularity in all regions of the world, ranging from bullying to torture, kidnapping and murder.
· the criminalization of homosexuality and same-sex relationships.
· the discrimination suffered by LGBT individuals and the lack of legal protection by national laws.

The goal, in the High Commissioner’s view, is that everyone should be treated with the same measure of respect and dignity.

OHCHR has also this week released a video that highlights the continuing stigma - and danger - of being gay. By 10:35 this morning it had already received 91,958 views, which is 13,000 more than for any other video we have placed on YouTube.

We hope that it will bring home to everyone the terrible impact of homophobia on the lives of LGBT people around the world.

You can view the video on our YouTube channel:

2) Bangladesh

We welcome the fact that dozens of international companies have made a legal commitment to improve safety in Bangladesh’s garment factories, in the wake of last month’s building collapse that killed more than 1,100 people.

By the midnight deadline on 15 May, 37 companies including major retailers in Europe such as Inditex, Carrefour and H&M, had signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

This is an important and in many ways unprecedented agreement, which can be enforced in the countries where the multinationals are based.

However, some major retailers, especially in the United States, have chosen not to sign but instead carry out their own inspections. The spotlight will be on them to ensure they fulfil their pledges.

This accord and reforms announced by the Bangladeshi government and local factory owners stem from a wake-up call that safety policies were neither adequate nor enforced, and that the catastrophe at the Rana Plaza building was totally preventable.

The measures taken so far may mark a turning point in the history of Bangladesh’s clothing industry, but we believe they should be a beginning not an end result.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay is calling for swift action to empower trade unions and overhaul the garment sector, with a far more stringent approach to oversight and inspection.

This issue does not just concern Bangladesh. Two years ago, the UN agreed a series of Guiding Principles on what needs to be done by businesses and governments everywhere. Governments must have effective policies to prevent, punish and redress abuse of workers’ rights, businesses must act to prevent and address rights abuses, and victims must have access to effective remedy. In other words, while the spotlight has been on the international brands sourcing from Bangladesh, this should not detract from the duties and responsibilities of governments and factories to prevent this kind of disaster happening, and to ensure redress and accountability when they do.

The world is now saying enough is enough, but it took the deaths of at least 1,127 of the largely female workforce crammed into five factories in the Rana Plaza to make this happen.

The best way to honour the victims is to ensure such a tragedy never happens again – in any industry anywhere. The international framework, in the form of the Guiding Principles, as well as a package of labour reforms and all the norms and standards developed by the ILO, is already there to help bring that about.

3) Papua New Guinea

We are very concerned about a recent statement issued by the Government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) announcing that it intends to resume the death penalty, more than half a century since it last carried out an execution.

PNG has maintained a long standing de facto moratorium since 1954 which was subsequently passed into law in 1970, so resuming the death penalty again would be a major setback, especially after so many other states have subsequently abolished the death penalty or adopted moratoriums.

Since 2007, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted four resolutions calling on States to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolition. The movement towards abolition has gained ground in every region, spanning different legal systems, traditions, customs and religious backgrounds. Today about 150 of the UN’s 193 Member States have either abolished the death penalty or no longer practise it.

While recognising the challenge presented by the recent alarming rise in violent crime in PNG, including rape, torture and murder, the use of capital punishment has never been proved to be a more effective deterrent than other forms of punishment.

The High Commissioner has written to the Prime Minister stating her concerns about the planned resumption of the death penalty, and is calling on the Government to maintain its moratorium and subsequently join the growing number of Member States that have abolished the practice altogether, including 11 States in the Pacific.

On a more positive note, we welcome the decision by the National Executive Council last week to repeal Papua New Guinea Sorcery Act.

4) Indonesia

We very much regret the executions earlier today in Indonesia of three men, Suryadi Swabuana, Jurin bin Abdullah and Ibrahim bin Ujang. Indonesia has now executed a total of four people since the resumption of death penalty there in March.

It is a very unfortunate development as Indonesia was close to establishing a moratorium on executions. From 2008 to 2012, no executions at all were carried out, and public statements by prominent leaders, including President Yudhoyono, were encouraging.

Last January, the High Commissioner wrote to the Government of Indonesia after the Attorney General Office announced its plan to execute 10 convicted criminals in 2013, urging the authorities not to carry out further executions.

5) Nigeria

The President of Nigeria has declared a state of emergency in the three north eastern states of the country citing the rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to national unity and territorial integrity.

The High Commissioner has repeatedly condemned the cowardly attacks by Boko Haram which have targeted civilians and politicians, members of government institutions, security forces and foreign nationals. The High Commissioner has also noted that members of Boko Haram and other groups and entities, if judged to have committed widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population – including on grounds such as religion or ethnicity -- could be found guilty of crimes against humanity. Deliberate acts leading to population “cleansing” on grounds of religion or ethnicity could also amount to a crime against humanity.

We also call on the Nigerian government to make sure its efforts to achieve security are in full compliance with human rights principles and we urge security forces and the military to respect human rights, and avoid excessive use of force when conducting operations, as these canal too easily feeding local resentment, especially when civilians are killed or have their property damaged. We urge the Government of Nigeria to ensure the regime of safeguards set out in international human rights law is respected during its emergency operations.

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 /; Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 93 10 /; or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9434 /

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