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India votes to block gay rights at UN

Last updated on: March 25, 2015 18:44 IST


At a time when there is a raging debate calling for decriminalising gay sex back home, India has supported a Russian-drafted resolution that opposes benefits for same-sex partners of United Nations staff but it failed to pass in the General Assembly committee.

The Fifth Committee of the General Assembly, that deals with administrative and budgetary issues, voted against the Russian proposal here onTuesdat that aimed at stopping the UN from offering marital benefits to its employees with same-sex spouses.  80 nations voted against denying these benefits.

The resolution would have had UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon withdraw his policy laying out the United Nations current rules for the personal status of staff members for determining their benefits and entitlements.

The policy made by Ban last summer had recognised same-sex marriages of all UN staffers, allowing them to receive UN benefits.

India, along with China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE voted in favour of the draft resolution, which had 37 abstentions.

Same-sex relations are a criminal offence in India after the Supreme Court had in 2013 overturned a Delhi high court judgment that decriminalised gay sex in 2011.

The HC judgment was widely welcomed by the liberal sections of society along with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and ever since the reversal by the Supreme Court there have been demands for again decriminalising it.

Ban has been a strong proponent of equal rights for the LGBT community and had said that he is proud to stand for greater equality for all staff.

In introducing the policy last year, the UN chief had called on all members of the UN family to unite in rejecting homophobia.

Previously, a staff member’s marital status was determined by the laws applicable in his or her country of nationality.

Under the new UN policy on the personal status of same-sex couples, which became effective on June 26 last year, the world body recognised all same-sex couples married in a country where it is legal, regardless of their nationality.

About 40,000 UN staff across the world came under the purview of the policy.

Ban’s deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the secretary general “does appreciate the support of those who recognised his authority as chief administrative officer as per the UN Charter”.

US led the opposition to Moscow’s proposal, with its envoy to the UN telling the committee that the vote preserves the secretary-general’s administrative prerogatives under the UN Charter, allowing the UN to determine how the UN administers staff benefits.

US Permanent Representative Samantha Power said that “vote should never have happened” as it sets a dangerous precedent in challenging the secretary-general’s authority to make administrative decisions.

“We must speak plainly about what Russia tried to do today: diminish the authority of the UN Secretary-General and export to the UN its domestic hostility to LGBT rights,” Power said.

UN staff unions welcomed the Fifth Committee's decision to maintain benefits for the same-sex partners of UN staff. 

“The UN advocates for human rights around the world and it’s quite right therefore that it should not pay benefits to staff based on their sexual orientation. We’re glad that after three months of uncertainty on how the vote would go, common sense prevailed,” said Ian Richards, President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations representing 60,000 staff working at the UN. Haq had said last year that the UN chief had not consulted member states in arriving at the new policy but had acted on his own authority as the head of the management of the United Nations.

Russia’s deputy ambassador Petr Iliichev stressed that his country was not challenging the role of the Secretary-General but the changes under consideration must be made in consultation with Member States. He said the nationality of the staff member should be taken into consideration when making entitlement determinations.

He said the new policy discriminated against a number of UN Member States, as it did not consider their legislative and judicial systems, and denied the assembly the opportunity to discuss its substance.

Saudi Arabia’s representative Bilal Taher Muhhamad Wilson said he voted in favour of the draft decision on moral grounds as the Kingdom held that same-sex marriage was immoral.

Yoshita Singh in United Nations
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