10 years on from landmark human rights principles, LGBTI and human rights experts reflect on progress, setbacks

Apr 26, 2017

Professor Emeritus Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, gives the keynote address at the Conference on the Yogyakarta Principles. Photo: Ian Mungall/UNDP.

Bangkok - On the anniversary of the murder of two LGBTI activists by extremists in Bangladesh, participants at a global Conference on the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity reaffirmed that the Principles remain as relevant today as when they were released 10 years ago.

Over 100 experts from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) civil society organizations, national human rights institutions, research bodies, the United Nations and development partners from over 25 countries and territories gathered to reflect on how they have been utilized and the challenges encountered, and to chart a path forward to advance the inclusion and human rights of LGBTI people. The conference was organized in Bangkok by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institution (APF).

“The Yogyakarta Principles concisely articulate international human rights law protecting all persons irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Professor Emeritus Vitit Muntarbhorn, the United Nations Independent Expert charged with investigating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “They are strategic in specifying the needed actions, such as decriminalization of consensual same-sex relations.”

The Principles have helped guide the movement for greater inclusion of LGBTI people. Historic gains have been made in Asia and the Pacific, and across many parts of the world. Over the past decade, some 25 countries and territories in the Asia Pacific region, have introduced a range of protective laws and ordinances, passed supportive court judgements, and pioneered constitutional reform processes that promote the equality of LGBTI people.

“By reviewing how the application of human rights law has evolved in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, this conference explored the opportunities to supplement the Yogyakarta Principles including recognizing the rights and needs of intersex people,” said Caitlin Wiesen, Chief of UNDP’s Regional Policy and Programme Support for Asia and the Pacific.

However, there have also been significant hurdles and setbacks along the way. LGBTI people are still subject to widespread stigma, discrimination and violence in education, employment, health care settings, in their communities and even within their families. And far too often LGBTI people are excluded from development opportunities.

Furthermore, there remains a great degree of misunderstanding and lack of awareness regarding intersex variations by policy makers, the public and human rights advocates. Few countries in Asia and the Pacific, or indeed the world, have attempted to develop laws and policies to recognize and protect the rights of intersex people.

“Looking back 10 years ago, we could not have imagined that we would undertake the breadth and consistency of work in relation to LGBTI rights,” said Pip Dargan, Deputy Director and Gender Focal Point, APF. “We now have history to guide us on just how much can be achieved in promoting and protecting the human rights of LGBTI people in the next 10 years.”

“For community groups, the Yogyakarta Principles have served as an invaluable tool for advocating for policy and legal changes regarding sexual and gender minorities, including as part of our successful efforts to ensure the new Constitution of Nepal contained explicit protections for LGBTI people,” said Manisha Dhakal, Executive Director for Blue Diamond Society, Nepal. “The Principles have also been used to strengthen the capacity of civil society to advocate for their human rights.”

Released in March 2007, the Yogyakarta Principles were developed and unanimously adopted by a distinguished group of human rights experts, from diverse regions and backgrounds, including judges, academics, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Procedures, members of treaty bodies, NGOs and others. The Principles provide clear guidance on how human rights law applies to sexual orientation and gender identity and represent an invaluable tool for activists, allies, government agencies, development agencies and human rights organizations working on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.


The Yogyakarta Principles  http://www.yogyakartaprinciples.org/principles-en/

Contact information

Ian Mungall, Programme Analyst, HIV, Health and Development Team, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub
ian.mungall@undp.org | +66909710908

James Iliffe, APF Communications Consultant   

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