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Post submitted by former Senior International Policy Advocate Jeremy Kadden

As the new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took office earlier this month, HRC joined a group of human rights organizations in urging Tillerson and his staff to continue U.S. engagement with the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The UN Human Rights Council, established in 2006, has in recent years taken up an increasing number of initiatives aimed at protecting the human rights of LGBTQ people.

  • In 2011, the Council passed a South African resolution requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report on "discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity." This was the first time a UN body had approved a resolution containing language that affirmed the human rights of LGBTQ specifically.
  • In 2014, the Council passed a similar resolution, this time led by Latin American countries.
  • Member countries of the Council have also raised LGBTQ concerns with a number of countries during their Universal Periodic Review process, in which each country is subjected to a review of their own human rights practices and laws.
  • In 2016, the Council agreed to appoint an Independent Expert to focus on the human rights of LGBTQ people, the first ever such position to deal with LGBTQ issues created at the UN. The new expert will assess the state of LGBTQ human rights, liaise with LGBTQ advocates and allies around the world and engage with governments and civil society to make recommendations for combating violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people.

With that in mind, on February 9, HRC joined a letter to Secretary Tillerson that urges him to maintain U.S. engagement with the Council.

"Strong American leadership at the Council has advanced our nation’s interests and values on a range of human rights priorities," the letter reads. “The Council is the only global intergovernmental body addressing some of the most pressing human rights challenges of our time. Its importance is recognized by America’s friends and allies, human rights defenders—particularly those operating under repressive regimes.”

The letter also warns Secretary Tillerson about how the Council might change without U.S. leadership: “Disengagement from the Council would leave a vacuum, and states that do not share our nation’s interests and values would fill it, resulting in less condemnation of the world’s worst human rights abusers...and more repressive governments gaining membership in the Council. None of these outcomes serves America’s interests.”

The letter was signed by the Better World Campaign, Freedom Now, Freedom House, Human Rights First, the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, and the UN Association of the USA and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

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