In Singapore LGBT Case, UN Human Rights Office Gets Human Rights Law Wrong

In Singapore LGBT Case, UN Human Rights Office Gets Human Rights Law Wrong

Last week the Singapore High Court demurred in overturning Singapore’s 76-year-old law against men having sex with men. In deflecting the case, the High Court said the law was a matter for the legislature and that the court should not itself become a mini-legislature itself. Additionally, the Court refused to read certain phases into the Constitution that are not there, such as “sexual orientation.”

The UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, however, has taken a more activist position when it comes to a reading of international law.

In a statement released October 31, the top human rights office condemned the decision saying “Using criminal law to prosecute individuals for engaging in consensual same sex conduct violates a host of human rights guaranteed in international law, including the right to privacy, the right to freedom from discrimination, and the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention including protection for sexual orientation and gender identity.”

In fact, “sexual orientation and gender identity” do not appear in any UN human rights treaties. And while advocates have long pushed for “sexual orientation and gender identity” as a new category of non-discrimination in international law, the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and the UN General Assembly in New York have repeatedly rejected the proposition. Additionally, no governing body of any human rights treaty has accepted the new classification.

The UN Office of High Commission for Human Rights works with LGBT pressure groups around the world to convince governments that the phrase is a part of international law and protects against a category of discrimination similar to established and agreed upon classifications like “freedom of religion.” Some UN treaty monitoring bodies agree, as do liberal human rights lawyers, but the official bodies attached to treaties, made up of governments who are parties to the treaties, have never agreed.

The statement of the Office of High Commission is seen then as more aspirational than as a statement of fact.


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