11 December 2012
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


Whether an Indian girl, an albino or another boy - South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka could not care less whom her son brought home as long as he was happy, she said today at a Headquarters press conference.


“Everybody’s born free and born equal,” Ms. Chaka Chaka said at a press conference ahead of an afternoon event, “The role of leadership in the fight against homophobia”, in which she and fellow music star Ricky Martin were scheduled to participate.  “We all have to stand up and say, ‘No, this is not correct’”, she emphasized.


“To all the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, we love you the way you are,” she continued.  “Be what you want to be,” she said.  “As a mother, as an advocate, as a musician, I’ve decided to fight this war.”  While pleased that the United Nations was taking up the issue, and that South Africa had taken the lead by legalizing same-sex marriage, she said more must be done in the war against homophobia.


Accompanying Ms. Chaka Chaka was Charles Radcliffe, Chief of the Global Issues Section in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), who spoke on behalf of Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.  He said much had happened in the two years since the Secretary-General’s launch of an international appeal to end violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.  “It’s been a period of change, a period when we’ve seen this issue — which for a long time was on the fringes of the United Nations radar screen — move to the centre onto the formal agenda.”


Among the advances made were passage of the first United Nations resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council and the issuance by the Office of the High Commissioner of a report on abuses against LGBT persons, he said.  The latest in a series of initiatives was today’s leadership event, which would include a keynote speech by the Secretary-General, underlining the need for leadership in the fight against homophobia, he added.


Asked about the tools to be used in the “war” against homophobia, Ms. Chaka Chaka said that while educating people was critical, Governments should take a strong stand and declare it a crime to jail or ostracize people.  While South Africa should be commended for its efforts, it still faced problems, including reports of men raping lesbians purportedly seeking to make them “real” women.  “Rules and regulations are there, but we need action,” she said.  “ South Africa needs to talk to presidents in the rest of Africa.”  On the individual level, people must not hide behind culture, she emphasized, noting that while her husband was “allowed” to have three or four wives, she forbade him to do so.  On the other hand, if a woman wished to be in a customary marriage, she should be able to make that choice, but not be forced into it, she added.


In answering to a related question, Mr. Radcliffe said the tension between religious law and international law, for instance, needed further discussion.  “It’s a complex issue for States to negotiate,” he added, noting that the Secretariat and the Secretary-General believed that dialogue was needed for the world’s diversity to be recognized, and all rights must be protected.


While the OHCHR report documented cases, examined trends and provided findings that 76 countries currently criminalized homosexuality, the aim of the study was not to “name-and-shame” but to inform, he stressed.  In the meantime, there was much private diplomacy going on, in addition to efforts to address discrimination.


Pointing out that the Secretariat’s position matched two decades of international human rights laws that carried legal obligations for States; he said the division of opinions was shifting.  In the last six years, the number of signatories to the Joint Statement on Ending Acts of Violence and Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity had risen from 21 to 85, he noted.


Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, was asked whether or not guidance from the Secretariat actually reached the Committee on Non-governmental Organizations when it was considering applications for accreditation, which included those from LGBT groups.  He said no one could dictate how Member States voted.  The Secretary-General, on the other hand, had a track record and his views were very clear, as was his support for what must happen to support the rights of the LGBT community.


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For information media • not an official record