Pulling U.S. From U.N. Human Rights Council Could Endanger Lives Around The Globe

HRC expressed concern about reports that the Trump administration may withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which has taken historic steps to protect and promote the human rights and dignity of LGBTQ people around the globe. News of the threat comes amid scores of human rights crises around the globe, including the persecution and torture of LGBTQ people by the Chechen government, ISIS and other regimes worldwide.  Last month, HRC submitted written testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in support of the UNHRC.

“Consider the message the United States would send to the world if it were to disengage from the UN Human Rights Council,” said Ty Cobb, Director of HRC Global. “U.S. foreign policy must protect and promote human rights. Turning away from the Council would signal to brutal regimes — and all those they oppress — that the U.S. is looking the other way. In fact, we have seen the Council at its worst when the U.S. is not providing leadership, allowing despotic leaders to control the agenda and push their own dangerous goals.”

The UNHRC has been a crucial partner in the fight to advance LGBTQ equality internationally, passing its first resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in 2011.  Supported by the United States and other countries, the council passed a South African-proposed resolution that directed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on “discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.” The ensuing report detailed violence and discrimination occurring against LGBTQ people in every region of the world. The report also “called on UN member states to repeal any laws criminalizing same-sex conduct; to investigate and report all incidents of violence against LGBTQ people and those perceived to be LGBTQ; and to take steps to counter homophobia and transphobia among the general public.”

In 2016, the U.S. and other nations passed a resolution at the UNHRC appointing an Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand is the first person to hold that position and is assessing LGBTQ human rights in various countries, meeting with LGBTQ advocates around the globe, and engaging with governments and civil society to help combat violence and discrimination targeting LGBTQ people.

While the UNHRC has come under criticism from the Trump administration and members of Congress, the organization has been a crucial body for supporting the human rights of LGBTQ people. Despite any real or perceived flaws, the work of UNHRC is greatly enhanced when the U.S. is fully engaged in its work and provides leadership. The absence of the United States will allow other nations to steer the conversation, agenda and priorities of the organization.