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UN Security Council meeting to focus on LGBTQ+, intersex rights

Activists from Colombia, Afghanistan expected to speak at March 20 gathering

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U.N. flag (Photo by sanjitbakshi; courtesy Flickr)

UNITED NATIONS — A meeting that will focus on the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work will take place at the United Nations on March 20.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. is co-sponsoring the meeting along with Albania, Brazil, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the U.K. and the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield will convene the meeting.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues, is expected to provide a briefing on LGBTQ+ and intersex rights around the world. María Susana Peralta of Colombia Diversa — an LGBTQ+ and intersex advocacy group in Colombia that participated in talks between the country’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that led to an LGBTQ+-inclusive peace agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and then-FARC Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in 2016 — and Afghan LGBT Organization Director Artemis Akbary are also expected to take part.

“At this meeting, we are asking countries to make specific commitments to address LGBTI human rights concerns in the Security Council,” a senior administration official on Thursday told reporters during a conference call. “So, for example, we ourselves will commit to ask questions of U.N. officials regarding human rights violations of LGBTQI persons. We will also commit to raise in our national statements at the Security Council any reports or abuses or other concerns unique to the LGBTI community, and when appropriate, we’ll propose language in Security Council resolutions where there are egregious violations.”

“Our view is that we need to build on best practices,” said another senior administration official. “And we need to embrace a midset in the Security Council where, as the Council addresses the crisis of the day, members consistently ask relevant questions such as: What can the Security Council do to increase protection for LGBTQI+ persons in this conflict? Or how can we expand the women, peace and security agenda to include intersectional identities? Or have we included the perspectives of LGBTQI+ persons in a peacekeeping mission or in a peacebuilding process?”

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues, speaks at a reception at the Icelandic Embassy in D.C. on Aug. 25, 2022. Madrigal-Borloz will participate in a U.N. Security Council meeting on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues that will take place at the U.N. on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Security Council’s first-ever LGBTQ+-specific meeting, which focused on the Islanmic State’s persecution of LGBTQ+ Syrians and Iraqis, took place in 2015. Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who is now director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and then-International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Jessica Stern, who is now the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights, are among those who participated.

The Security Council in June 2016 formally condemned the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. The U.N. Human Rights Council a few months later appointed Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues. (Madrigal-Borloz succeeded Muntarbhorn in 2018.)

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Knight Craft and then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in 2019 hosted an event on the sidelines of a U.N. General Assembly meeting that focused on efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations around the world. 

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy. Outgoing State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Washington Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the White House’s five priorities as it relates to the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights overseas.

Russia one of five permanent Security Council members

The U.S., the U.K., France, China and Russia are the Security Council’s five permanent members. Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates are the 10 non-permanent members.

The United Arab Emirates and Ghana is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Gabon and Mozambique over the last decade have formally decriminalized homosexuality. in 2020. 

A Ghanaian lawmaker in 2021 introduced a bill that seeks to criminalize LGBTQ and intersex identity and allyship in the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin late last year signed another so-called propaganda law that specifically targets LGBTQ+ and intersex people.

Russia on Feb. 24, 2022, launched its war against Ukraine.

One of the two senior administration officials who spoke with reporters on Thursday said they do not know if Russia will participate in the meeting. The other official added it is “impossible to have a conversation about the vulnerabilities of LGBTQI people without looking at what’s been happening in Ukraine.”

“I’m sure that’s going to be a question that people are asking,” they said. “I can imagine that it might be referenced in some of the statements by other missions.”

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers will be at the U.N. on March 20 to cover the meeting.

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United Nations

Global anti-LGBTQ+ rights backlash overshadows UN General Assembly

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act signed into law in May

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U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) speaks about LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in Africa during an event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 18, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NEW YORK — Government officials, politicians and activists who traveled to New York for the U.N. General Assembly expressed their growing concern over the global backlash against LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

“The emergence of this new wave of anti-LGBTQ+ laws first of all is scary, but secondly is deadly,” said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) on Monday during an event the African Services Committee hosted in Manhattan. “We have to really understand what’s at stake with these laws.”

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, and Dr. Rebecca Bunnell, acting principal deputy coordinator for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, are among those who also spoke at the event. Outright International Executive Director Maria Sjödin, Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell, activists from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana and journalist Anne-Christine d’Adesky also participated.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” Lawmakers in Kenya and Tanzania over the last year have proposed similar measures.

A bill that would criminalize LGBTQ+ and intersex identity and allyship in Ghana is currently before the country’s lawmakers. Police in Nigeria’s Delta state last month arrested more than 200 people at a same-sex wedding.

Lee noted African leaders who champion these bills and laws have alliances with U.S.-based groups that oppose LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

“Hate is everywhere and it’s really important that our government do a better job of tracking — of course U.S. persons and organizations and what their role has been advancing these laws,” said the California Democrat.

D’Adesky noted Congress has yet to reauthorize PEPFAR and there is “an enormous fight.”

“The anti-LGBTQ forces, which are the family values (supporters) in the GOP and the extreme right, have been using this issue of HIV funding and HIV programs as a kind of proxy … to go after democratic societies, not just here in the United States, but everywhere,” said D’Adesky. “It’s a very deliberate strategy to link the issue of LGBTQ rights and homosexuality with HIV service provision.”

President Joe Biden on Tuesday in his U.N. General Assembly speech noted PEPFAR has saved “more than 25 million lives” in more than 55 countries around the world.

President Joe Biden speaks at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2023. (Screen capture via Associated Press YouTube)

American officials earlier this year postponed a meeting on PEPFAR’s work in Uganda in order to assess the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s potential impact on it. 

UNAIDS in a report it released in July raised concerns over a spike in HIV among gay and transgender people in eastern and southern Africa due to anti-homosexuality laws. The U.N. body noted laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations remain a significant obstacle in preventing and treating HIV among LGBTQ+ and intersex people.

“We have been trying to find communities and groups that can ensure that everybody has access to life saving services for HIV testing, prevention, PrEP, treatment, etc.,” said Bunnell during the African Services Committee event.

Bunnell, who previously lived and worked in Uganda, described the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act as “horrific.” Bunnell nevertheless added the law has made LGBTQ+, intersex and HIV-specific issues more visible.

“At some level it’s really heartening to see that we are at least able to talk openly and have a conversation where we are now addressing issues that were completely hidden at that time,” she said. “We’re in a very challenging, but better place in that sense.”

Bunnell said she and her colleagues are in “active communication” with Stern and other Biden-Harris administration officials to see “what we can do, where could we restrict funding, where could we make statements, where can we protest against the absolutely horrific legislation in Uganda, where can we more proactively look at other countries that we’ve heard from today.”

The U.S. in June imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials. 

The World Bank Group on Aug. 8 announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda. The European Union last week said it would continue to provide funding to the country. 

Sjödin after the African Services Committee event noted to the Washington Blade that the World Bank has human rights safeguards in place. Sjödin stressed, however, the issue of cutting aid to countries with anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-intersex rights records is “extremely nuanced.”

“I don’t think that cutting aide is a general remedy for any of this,” said Sjödin. “I don’t think that in general you can say, oh stop all foreign aid to any country where discrimination occurs because as we know this is not isolated to a few countries in Africa. We do know that LGBTIQ people are actively persecuted in many more.”

Openly gay Irish prime minister speaks at UN LGBTQ+, intersex rights event

Biden in his General Assembly speech referenced violence and persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Monday described Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act as “horrific” and said the U.S. “is doing everything in our power to support the LGBTQ community in Uganda, to ensure their safety and to ensure they are not damaged by this law.”  

“We are looking at … how we can continue to provide the good support that PEPFAR provides directly to individuals, to help save their lives without putting that funding through the Ugandan government or through individuals in the Ugandan government who are responsible for implementing this law,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “It’s a huge dilemma, but we have to find a way to do that and we have to find a way to hold those accountable who are basically violating the human rights of the LGBTQ community in Uganda.”

Lee reiterated her criticisms of the Anti-Homosexuality Act when she spoke at an event at the U.N. on Monday that marked the U.N. LGBTI Core Group’s 15th anniversary.

“The United States is deeply troubled by Uganda’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act,” said Lee. “The legislation has already led to arrest, violence and evictions of LGBTQI+ Ugandans and undermine the safety of human rights defenders and healthcare providers serving this population.” 

“The United States and Uganda have enjoyed long standing cooperation that have benefited our bilateral relationship and made the region healthier, more prosperous and more secure,” she added. “However, our partnership and Uganda’s standing on the world stage is at risk due to the worsening trends of a closing political and civic space and increasing violations and abuses of human rights, the threat of privacy and the safety of everyone in Uganda, including through the enactment and enforcement of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. These actions ferment hate, support violence, and are no threat to the principle of human rights, development and good governance enshrined in the (Universal) Declaration (of Human Rights.)”

The U.S. is among the dozens of countries that are members of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

Lee noted Singapore, the Cook Islands, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis over the last year have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. The California Democrat also highlighted Switzerland and Slovenia in 2022 extended marriage rights to same-sex couples; while Iceland, Spain and Cyprus banned so-called conversion therapy.

The Icelandic Parliament in Reykjavik, Iceland. The country has banned so-called conversion therapy for minors. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Edgars Rinkēvičs in June became Latvia’s first openly gay president. Spanish lawmakers in February approved a landmark Transgender rights law that allows anyone who is over 16-years-old to legally change their gender without medical intervention.

“Despite these gains, LGBTQI+ persons worldwide continue to experience alarming levels of violence, discrimination and isolation,” said Lee. “We are seeing increasingly coordinated efforts to undermine progress on human rights of LGBTQI+ persons worldwide, while seemingly targeted at a small slice of the population.” 

Lee in her remarks specifically referenced the U.S. as one of the countries in which “we are seeing hateful shameful attacks on and against the LGBTQI+ persons, especially against LGBTQI children.” 

Openly gay Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Chilean Foreign Minister Alberto Van Klaveren, Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, Danish Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy Minister Dan Jørgensen, Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib, French Europe and Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna, Colombian Multilateral Affairs Vice Minister Elizabeth Taylor Jay, Brazilian Multilaterial Political Affairs Vice Minister Carlos Marcio Bicalho Cozendey and South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation Director General Zane Dangor are among those who also spoke at the event that Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the outgoing independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues, chaired.

Brazil’s Planalto (Presidential) Palace illuminated in rainbow colors in honor of Pride month. (Photo courtesy of Brazilian Congresswoman Erika Hilton/Twitter)

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Tirana Hassan and Chitsanupong Best Nithiwana, a transgender rights activist from Thailand, also participated. Openly gay Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel spoke virtually. 

“My country, Ireland, has come a long way in recent years, particularly when we think about its LGBTI+ inclusion,” said Varadkar.

Varadkar said he was in high school when Ireland decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 1993.

Ireland in 2015 became the first country to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples through a popular vote. Ireland’s Gender Recognition Act took effect the same year. Varadkar noted his government is currently working to expunge convictions under the country’s sodomy law and plans to ban conversion therapy in the country. 

“These are major legislative changes, but I think the real effect runs much deeper,” he said. “Our culture and our society has changed and there’s a better understanding of family and inclusion. The Ireland of today is a more understanding or accepting more inclusive and more equal country than it was in the past and more willing to respect fluidity, diversity and personal freedom.”

Varadkar, like Lee and others who spoke at the LGBTI Core Group event, expressed concern “about the alarming pushback against LGBT rights in some parts of the world, particularly criminalization, and the rise of violence, hatred towards members of our community at home and abroad.”

“We see in some countries, the reintroduction of draconian laws, including threat of the death penalty, openness, discrimination, as an increasing backlash against very vulnerable transgender people, and heightened political polarization, including here in the U.N,” he said. “I deeply regret the escalating attempts made by some states to undermine existing international commitments and standards.”

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Biden references LGBTQ+, intersex rights in UN General Assembly speech

‘We cannot turn away from abuses’

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President Joe Biden speaks at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2023. (Screen capture via Associated Press YouTube)

UNITED NATIONS — President Joe Biden on Tuesday noted LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

“We cannot turn away from abuses, whether in Xinjiang, Tehran, Darfur or anywhere else. We have to continue working to ensure that women and girls enjoy equal rights and equal participation in their society; that indigenous groups, racial, ethnic, religious minorities, people with disabilities do not have their potential stifled by systemic discrimination, that the LGBTQI+ people are not prosecuted or targeted with violence because of who they are,” said Biden. “These rights are part of our shared humanity. When they’re absent anywhere, their loss is felt everywhere. They are essential in the advancement of human progress that brings us together.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

The General Assembly is taking place less than five months after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. in June imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials. The World Bank Group last month announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda. 

Biden in 2022 reiterated his administration’s commitment to LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad in his General Assembly speech.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield earlier this year chaired a U.N. meeting that focused on the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

The U.S. is among the dozens of countries that are members of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ+ and intersex rights. California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and openly gay Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar are among those who spoke at an event on Monday on the sidelines of the General Assembly that commemorated the group’s 15th anniversary. 

PEPFAR has saved more than 25 million lives

Biden in his speech also highlighted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

“HIV/AIDS infections and deaths plummeted in no small part because of PEPFAR’s work in more than 55 countries, saving more than 25 million lives,” he said.

American officials earlier this year postponed a meeting on PEPFAR’s work in Uganda in order to assess the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s potential impact on it. 

U.S. Capitol Police on Sept. 11 arrested seven HIV/AIDS activists who refused to leave House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building. Housing Works CEO Charles King, Housing Works President Matthew Bernardo and Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell are among those who demanded the California Republican to reauthorize PEPFAR.

U.S. CAPITOL POLICE REMOVE HIV/AIDS ACTIVISTS FROM U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CALIF.)’S OFFICE IN D.C. ON SEPT. 11, 2023. (WASHINGTON BLADE VIDEO BY MICHAEL K. LAVERS)

Ukraine, climate change and democracy are three of the other issues that Biden noted in his General Assembly speech.

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UN Security Council urged to focus on LGBTQ+, intersex rights

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield chaired Monday meeting

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The United Nations (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Monday chaired a meeting at the United Nations that focused on the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. co-sponsored the meeting along with Albania, Brazil, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the U.K. and the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield announced four “specific steps the U.S. will take to better integrate LGBTQI+ concerns into the U.N. Security Council’s daily work.”

• A regular review of the situation of LGBTQ+ and intersex people in conflict zones on the Security Council’s agenda that “includes regularly soliciting information from LGBTQI+ human rights defenders.

• Encouraging the U.N. Secretariat and other U.N. officials to “integrate LGBTQI+ concerns and perspectives in their regular reports” to the Security Council.

• A commitment “to raising abuses and violations of the human rights of LGBTQI+ people in our national statements in the Security Council.”

• A promise to propose, “when appropriate, language in Security Council products responding to the situation of LGBTQI+ individuals.”

“We are proud of these commitments,” said Thomas-Greenfield during Monday’s meeting. “They are just the beginning.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues, provided a briefing on LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world. 

“My mandate is based on one single fact: Diversity and sexual orientation and gender identity is a universal feature of humanity,” he said. “For too long, it has been made invisible in national level contributions to peace and security, including policies and programs and in the political and programmatic action of the United Nations.” 

María Susana Peralta of Colombia Diversa — an LGBTQ+ and intersex advocacy group in Colombia that participated in talks between the country’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that led to an LGBTQ+-inclusive peace agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and then-FARC Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in 2016 — and Afghan LGBT Organization Director Artemis Akbary also took part in the meeting.

Peralta said Colombia’s peace agreement “has created a standard by which other countries can use,” but noted the country’s Special Justice for Peace has yet to prosecute anyone who committed human rights abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity during the war.

Akbary noted the persecution of LGBTQ+ and intersex people in Afghanistan has increased since the Taliban regained control of the country in 2021. Akbary also said LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans cannot flee to Iran and other neighboring countries because of criminalization laws.

“The whole world is watching as the rights of LGBTQ people are systematically violated in Afghanistan,” said Akbary. “LGBTQ people on the ground in Afghanistan need and deserve protection.”

Representatives of U.N. delegations from France, Brazil, Albania, Japan, Ecuador, Switzerland, the U.K., Malta, Colombia, South Africa, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Union spoke in favor of the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the Security Council’s work.

“A person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or sex characteristics often increases the risk of of becoming the target in conflict and crisis situations,” said Luis Guilherme Parga Cintra of Brazil.

British Ambassador to the U.N. General Assembly Richard Crocker made a similar point.

“We know the conflicts have disproportionate impact on marginalized communities: Women and girls, persons with disabilities, members of ethnic and religious minority groups,” he said. “It is only right the Security Council is discussing this issue today.”

Ambassador Karlito Nunes, who is Timor-Leste’s permanent U.N. representative, read a statement in support of the Security Council discussions about LGBTQ+ and intersex issues. Representatives from China, Russia and Ghana who spoke said the Security Council is not the appropriate place to discuss them.

“Sexual orientation is an individual choice of every individual,” said the Russian representative.

The meeting took place less than 13 months after Russia launched its war against Ukraine. 

A Russian airstrike on March 1, 2022, killed Elvira Schemur, a 21-year-old law school student who volunteered for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride, while she was volunteering inside the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv’s regional administration building. Activists with whom the Washington Blade has spoken said LGBTQ+ and intersex people who lived in Russia-controlled areas of the country did not go outside and tried to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were afraid of Russian soldiers.

A Pride commemoration in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sept. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sphere Women’s Association)

The Security Council’s first-ever LGBTQ+-specific meeting, which focused on the Islamic State’s persecution of LGBTQ+ Syrians and Iraqis, took place in 2015. Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who is now director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and then-International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Jessica Stern, who is now the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights, are among those who participated.

Stern, along with U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), attended the meeting alongside OutRight International Executive Director Maria Sjödin, among others.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, center, speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Security Council in June 2016 formally condemned the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. The U.N. Human Rights Council a few months later appointed Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues. (Madrigal-Borloz succeeded Muntarbhorn in 2018.)

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Knight Craft and then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in 2019 during a U.N. General Assembly meeting hosted an event that focused on efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations around the world. 

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Washington Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the White House’s five priorities as it relates to the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights overseas.

The U.S., the U.K., France, China and Russia are the Security Council’s five permanent members. Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates are the 10 non-permanent members.

Ghana and the United Arab Emirates are two of the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. 

“Today’s meeting was an important first step toward further concrete actions the Security Council, and all parts of the U.N., can take to integrate LGBTQI+ human rights, experiences, and perspectives into their day-to-day work,” Thomas-Greenfield told the Blade in a statement after Monday’s meeting. “We’re proud of the four commitments we made today, and we will keep working to make sure this topic remains on the Council’s agenda.”

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International Holocaust Memorial Day: LGBTQ victims remembered

The Nazis targeted anyone they believed threatened their ideal of a ‘pure Aryan race’, including disabled people, LGBTQ people and others

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The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin on July 22, 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BERLIN – Ordinary People is the theme for International Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 as around the globe the day is set aside for everyone to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution.

The Nazis targeted anyone they believed threatened their ideal of a ‘pure Aryan race’, including Roma and Sinti people, disabled people, LGBTQ people, political opponents and others.

In a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania, whose Ambassador, Robert S. Gilchrist, is openly gay, a coalition consisting of other nation’s diplomatic missions to the Baltic nation including Israel, Germany, The Kingdom of the Netherlands, Japan and the European Commission Representation noted:

As we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we commemorate the Holocaust of six million Jews, men, women and children, including more than 200,000 Jews murdered in Lithuania.  We remember other communities who were also murdered: Roma, disabled persons, LGBTQI+ persons, Slavs, and others.  We do not forget that the Nazis committed these heinous crimes with the support of local collaborators throughout Europe.  And we remember the heroism of countless people who, at great personal risk, stepped in to save thousands of Jews.”

Dr. Amy Gutmann, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, tweeted: “Today we remember the horrors of the Holocaust and the six million Jews, and millions of Roma, Sinti, Slavs, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and political dissidents murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.” Dr. Gutmann added: “As my father, a German Jew forced to flee Germany in 1934 said, “Everything we do – and everything we don’t do – makes a difference.”

PinkNewsUK journalist Patrick Kelleher wrote:

It is thought that up to 50,000 gay men received severe prison sentences under Nazi rule. According to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, most were sent to police prisons, but between 10,000-15,000 were sent to concentration camps.

Life for queer people in Weimar Germany was a very different picture to what it would become under the Nazis.

Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23,
2022
(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

There were gay bars, there was a functioning queer scene – there was even an institute for sexual research, a concept that would be impossible to imagine in most European cities of the day.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, everything changed. In the years that followed, millions of Jews, alongside other minority groups, were rounded up, tortured and murdered in concentration camps, up until 1945.

Ambassador David Pressman, the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, who arrived in that country with his husband and their two children last Fall also remembered the Holocaust in a tweet:

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Biden notes LGBTQ+, intersex rights in UN General Assembly speech

President stressed ‘fundamental freedoms’ at risk around the world

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President Joe Biden speaks at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the White House/Twitter)

UNITED NATIONS — President Joe Biden on Wednesday reiterated his administration’s commitment to LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

“The future will be won by those countries that unleash the full potential of their populations, where women and girls can exercise equal rights, including basic reproductive rights and contribute fully to building stronger economies and more resilient societies, where religious and ethnic minorities can live their lives without harassment and contribute to the fabric of their communities, where the LGBTQ+ community, individuals live and love freely without being targeted with violence, where citizens can question and criticize their leaders without fear of reprisal,” said Biden in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly.

Biden specifically referenced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the U.N. General Assembly ratified in 1948. Biden also noted “fundamental freedoms are at risk in every part of our world” with specific references to the Taliban’s repression of women and girls in Afghanistan, the persecution of pro-democracy activists in Myanmar and human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in China’s Xinjiang province that now former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet documented in a report her office released just before her tenure ended on Sept. 1.

Biden also sharply criticized Russia over its war against Ukraine.

“The United States will always promote human rights,” he said.

Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday spoke at a meeting of the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ+ and intersex rights. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, was among those who were in attendance.

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U.N. expert ‘alarmed’ over curtailment of LGBTQ+, intersex rights in U.S.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz traveled across country in August

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Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues, speaks at a reception at the Icelandic Embassy in D.C. on Aug. 25, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — The independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues has expressed concern over efforts to curtail the rights of LGBTQ+ and intersex people in states across the U.S.

“I am deeply alarmed by a widespread, profoundly negative riptide created by deliberate actions to roll back the human rights of LGBT people at (the) state level,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz on Tuesday during a press conference. “The evidence shows that, without exception, these actions rely on prejudiced and stigmatizing views of LGBT persons, in particular Transgender children and youth, and seek to leverage their lives as props for political profit.”

Madrigal-Borloz last month traveled to D.C., Alabama, Florida and California.

Madrigal-Borloz met with officials from the State and Justice Departments, the National Security Council and the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services. 

Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones and staffers of the Birmingham (Ala.) Civil Rights Institute and the Human Rights Campaign are among those with whom Madrigal-Borloz sat down. A U.N. press release also notes Madrigal-Borloz met “with authorities” at a detention center for asylum seekers at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego.

“Despite five decades of progress, equality is not within reach, and often not even within sight, for all persons impacted by violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the United States,” said Madrigal-Borloz.

Madrigal-Borloz in his comments noted the White House continues to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in the U.S. and around the world.

President Joe Biden on June 15 signed a sweeping executive order that, among other things, directs federal government agencies to develop policies that will counter Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law and other anti-LGBTQ+ laws that states have enacted.

Biden during his remarks at a White House Pride event that took place on the same day he issued the directive noted violence against Transgender people of color and other vulnerable LGBTQ+ people has increased in the U.S. 

Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. The White House a few months later appointed Jessica Stern as the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

The State Department in April began to issue passports with “X” gender markers. Stern later noted to the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview that marriage equality “is one element of our longstanding and ongoing commitment to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

“The Biden-Harris administration has adopted powerful and meaningful actions that are in conformity with international human rights law, reveal a thoughtful strategy created through participative approaches, and provide significant capacity for their implementation,” said Madrigal-Borloz. “This is exactly the combination of values, knowledge, and muscle that can drive social change.

“In light of a concerted attack to undermine these actions, I exhort the administration to redouble its efforts to support the human rights of all LGBT persons living under its jurisdiction, and helping them to safe waters,” he added. 

The Blade has reached out to the White House for comment on Madrigal-Borloz’s comments.

A State Department spokesperson on Thursday told the Blade the State Department supports “the important work of (the) Independent Expert for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and look forward to reviewing his final report in the coming months.”

“We welcomed the Independent Expert and coordinated meetings with federal, state and local governments and civil society organizations across the country,” said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson referred the Blade to Biden’s June 15 executive director. The spokesperson further stressed that “human rights are at the core of U.S. foreign policy, and that includes standing up for and defending the full recognition of the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

“We engage in this work with humility, knowing that our road forward on these issues at home has been complex, and progress has been non-linear, and has come at the cost of great struggle and loss,” said the spokesperson. “We believe LGBTQI+ rights are human rights.”

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U.S. ambassador to U.N. attends Summit of the Americas

Linda Thomas-Greenfield says LGBTQ+ rights remain a top priority

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U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield delivers the closing keynote address at the Young Americas Summit in Los Angeles on June 9, 2022, during the Summit of the Americas. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Quartell)

LOS ANGELES — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Friday said LGBTQ+ rights remain a top priority for her and her colleagues at the United Nations.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s very much a priority for us as we deal with numerous crises across the board,” Thomas-Greenfield told the Los Angeles Blade during a telephone interview from the Summit of the Americas, which took place this week in Los Angeles.

The U.S. Senate in February 2021 confirmed Thomas-Greenfield as the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N. 

The Louisiana native is a veteran American diplomat who was the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia from 2008-2012. Thomas-Greenfield was assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2013-2017. 

Thomas-Greenfield in response to the Blade’s question about the previous administration’s campaign that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations said “all of our embassies and our ambassadors had instructions to address issues of criminalization of the LGBTQI community.” Thomas-Greenfield also noted then-Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf refused to sign a bill that would have criminalized same-sex relationships after she “went to the president” with her concerns.

“They (Liberian officials) were very, very clear on what our position is,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

She pointed out the U.S. is a member of the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ+ rights. 

Thomas-Greenfield said the U.N. General Assembly’s adoption of a free elections resolution last November that specifically includes sexual orientation and gender identity “was extraordinarily important for us.” Thomas-Greenfield also noted the U.S. Embassy in Guyana supported efforts to decriminalize cross-dressing in Guyana in accordance with a 2018 Caribbean Court of Justice ruling.

Guyanese lawmakers last August approved a bill that removed cross-dressing from the country’s Summary Jurisdiction (Offenses) Act. 

“Our embassy there advocated for the removal of this language and we were successful in doing that,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

President Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. Thomas-Greenfield said the directive “was one of my guiding principles when I arrived in New York.”

“Having that memo in hand gave me the impetus to do those things that all of us care about anyways, but it made a difference having the president instruct us,” she said.

The Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are among the myriad crises to which Thomas-Greenfield has responded since her arrival at the U.N.

Advocacy groups continue to urge the U.S. and other Western governments to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans and other at-risk groups to leave the country. Reports from Ukraine indicate Transgender people have not been able to leave the country because their gender presentation does not correspond with the gender marker on their ID documents.

“It’s so important that we are there to ensure that this community receives the protection that is afforded to them,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

Thomas-Greenfield said she and her U.N. colleagues in Geneva “are working to ensure that LGBTQI+ issues are taken into consideration in all of the work that the U.N. is doing around the world, including as it relates to refugees.”

She noted they “provide and encourage the U.N. to provide” the same human trafficking protections offered to young Ukrainian women “to the LGBTQI+ community when they’re crossing borders.” Thomas-Greenfield also acknowledged the difficulties that Trans Ukrainians who want to leave the country face.

“I’m aware of it and I know that the U.N. is aware of it and is making every attempt to address the issue,” she said. “The point I would make to these countries is when people leave their countries, they’re not racing to get documents to prove who they are or what they believe in. You race for your life.” 

“What people told us is that they were lucky to get out with a backpack,” added Thomas-Greenfield. “So, we have to press these countries to stop these restrictions that require people to show any kind of documentation when they’re fleeing for their lives.”

The Summit of the Americas took place in Los Angeles from June 6-10.

Thomas-Greenfield noted she attended President Biden’s meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Thomas-Greenfield also met with Honduran government officials, among others.

Thomas-Greenfield on Thursday delivered the closing keynote speech at the Young Americas Summit. She noted that one of the people who she met at the event was an “extraordinary, extraordinary young man” from Colombia who works to implement the peace agreement between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that specifically acknowledges the conflict’s LGBTQ+ victims.  

“I was just amazed at his courage, his commitment, his passion for making change and ensuring the LGBTQI community in Colombia was protected and the necessary assistance that they need,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

Thomas-Greenfield also acknowledged criticisms over the decision not to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to the summit.

“We heard the concerns about this, but I will tell you that civil society was invited across the board from these countries,” she said. “We think it was important that the voices of those individuals who have been abused by these countries … got amplified, if not highlighted. I think that was an important result of this.”

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. in New York commemorates Pride month. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Quartell)
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Honduras, Denmark join U.N. LGBTI Core Group

U.S. among 39 member countries

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(Photo by sanjitbakshi; courtesy Flickr)

UNITED NATIONS — Denmark and Honduras have joined a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support to LGBTQ+ rights.

“Denmark is deeply honored to officially enter into the LGBTI Core Group,” tweeted Denmark’s Permanent Mission to the U.N. on Wednesday.

Reportar sin Miedo, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Honduras, says the country’s government “expressed interest” in joining the U.N. LGBTI Core Group, but it has not made a formal announcement.

The U.S., Albania, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Peru, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the U.K. and Uruguay are also members of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group that Argentina and the Netherlands currently co-chair. The European Union, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International are also members.

Denmark in ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Europe 2021 report ranked second among 49 European countries in terms of LGBTQ+ rights.

Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in Honduras.

President Xiomara Castro, who has publicly endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples, took office in January. Víctor Grajeda, the first openly gay man elected to the country’s Congress, a few weeks later told the Blade during an interview in San Pedro Sula that Castro also supports the legal recognition of transgender Hondurans and “safe spaces” for LGBTQ+ people.

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U.N. committee: Sri Lanka criminalization law violates lesbian activist’s rights

London-based NGO represented Rosanna Flamer-Caldera

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global forum, Human Rights Day, gay news, Washington Blade
(Photo by sanjitbakshi; courtesy Flickr)

UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. committee has found a law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity in Sri Lanka has violated a lesbian activist’s rights.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on Wednesday published its decision in the case of Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of Equal Ground, a Sri Lankan LGBTQ+ rights group.

The decision notes Flamer-Caldera in 1997 “discovered that same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults was a criminal offense under section 365A of the (Sri Lanka) Penal Code of 1883.” The decision further indicates Flamer-Caldera has been “threatened frequently and has faced abuse from the media and the public” since she co-founded a support group for lesbian and bisexual women in 1999.

Flamer-Caldera in 2004 founded Equal Ground.

“She has faced continual challenges running the organization,” reads the decision.

The decision notes the Sri Lanka Police’s Women and Children’s Bureau in December 2012 and January 2013 “made presentations asserting that child abuse was increasing mostly due to the ‘growing homosexual culture.'”

“The author’s picture was shown together with her name and position with Equal Ground, claiming that she and her organization were responsible for spreading homosexuality, implying that they were also responsible for spreading pedophilia,” notes the decision. “She did not complain to the police out of fear of being arrested. The (Sri Lanka Police’s) Criminal Investigation Department has placed her and Equal Ground under surveillance, which forced her to move the organization’s materials to a secure location, as the department had deemed any homosexual material to be pornography, which could provoke arrest.”

The decision further notes the Criminal Investigation Department in July 2013 raided an organization with which Equal Ground works “on the basis of the allegation that it was ‘spreading homosexuality.'” Flamer-Caldera in the complaint she filed with the committee also said a delivery man in the spring of 2018 “verbally abused” her and “threatened” her “with violence.”

“The criminalization of same-sex sexual activity has meant that the discrimination, violence and harassment faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, Transgender and intersex community in Sri Lanka continue with impunity,” reads the decision. “Members of the community are not protected against police harassment. The law has altered how she lives and conducts herself in public and private. She has a constant fear of arrest and keeps her door locked and curtains drawn when she is at home with her girlfriend.”

Flamer-Caldera presented her case under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Human Dignity Trust, a London-based NGO that challenges criminalization laws around the world, represented Flamer-Caldera.

“The committee notes that the criminalization of same-sex sexual activity between women in Sri Lanka has meant that the author (Flamer-Caldera) has had difficulties with finding a partner, has to hide her relations and runs the risk of being investigated and prosecuted in this context,” it notes. “The committee therefore finds that the state party has breached the author’s rights under Article 16 of the convention.”

Flamer-Caldera on Thursday welcomed the decision.

“This decision will have an impact on millions of lesbian and bisexual women around the globe,” she told the Washington Blade. “I am happy and proud to have played such a pivotal role in this process.”

Sri Lanka is one of more than 70 countries around the world in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The U.K. implemented many of these laws in Commonwealth countries when it colonized them.

Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 said she “deeply” regrets these colonial-era criminalization laws.

The India Supreme Court in 2018 issued a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi in January said his government would abide by a ruling that decriminalized homosexuality in the former British colony. The Singapore Court of Appeal last month dismissed a challenge to the city-state’s sodomy law.

Flamer-Caldera told the Blade the Sri Lankan government has not responded to the ruling.

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U.S. regains U.N. Human Rights Council seat

Previous administration withdrew from body in 2018

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(Photo by sanjitbakshi; courtesy Flickr)

UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. on Thursday regained a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, three years after the previous administration withdrew from it.

The U.S. won election to the council alongside Argentina, Benin, Cameroon, Eritrea, Finland, Gambia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Montenegro, Paraguay, Qatar, Somalia and United Arab Emirates.

The council in recent years has emerged as a champion of LGBTQ rights around the world, even though Cuba and other countries with poor human rights records are among the 47 countries that are currently members. Venezuela and Russia are also on the council.

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestream the first of more than two dozen anti-government protests that took place across Cuba on July 11, remains in custody and faces eight years in prison. The Los Angeles Blade last month spoke with several Venezuelan LGBTQ activists who said persecution forced them to flee to neighboring Colombia.

Russia’s crackdown on LGBTQ rights and the Kremlin’s close relationship with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov continue to spark criticism around the world.

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley during a 2018 press conference that announced the U.S. withdrawal from the council noted Cuba and other countries “with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights record” are members. Haley also said the council has a “chronic bias against” Israel.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.  Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Thursday in a statement said LGBTQ rights will be one of the U.S.’s focuses once it officially rejoins the council on Jan. 1.

“Our initial efforts as full members in the Council will focus on what we can accomplish in situations of dire need, such as in Afghanistan, Burma, China, Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen,” she said. “More broadly, we will promote respect for fundamental freedoms and women’s rights, and oppose religious intolerance, racial and ethnic injustices, and violence and discrimination against members of minority groups, including LGBTQI+ persons and persons with disabilities.  And we will oppose the council’s disproportionate attention on Israel, which includes the council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country.”

President Biden in February issued a memorandum that commits the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

The previous White House tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead a campaign that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations, but many LGBTQ activists in the U.S. and around the world have questioned its effectiveness. The Washington Blade in August filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department that seeks Grenell’s emails around his work on the decriminalization initiative.

“The President and Sec. Blinken have put democracy and human rights—essential cornerstones of peace and stability—at the center of our foreign policy,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday after the U.S. regained a seat on the council. “We have eagerly and earnestly pursued these values in our relationships around the world.” 

“We will use our position to renew the council’s focus on the core human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.N. Charter, which undergird the council’s founding,” added Price at the beginning of his daily press briefing. “Our goal is to hold the U.N. Human Rights Council accountable to the highest aspirations of its mandate and spur the actions necessary to carry them out.” 

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