UN secretary-general says culture must not override gay rights

The secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has called for homosexuality to be decriminalised globally.

Speaking last Friday on Human Rights Day, Mr Ban said that people were “not put on this planet to live in fear of their fellow human beings” and that human rights must trump cultural attitudes.

His speech in full

He was speaking on a panel with US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.

The panel condemned violence against LGBT and the continued criminalisation of gay people in more than 70 countries worldwide.

Ms Rice said that the US would seek to reinstate reference to gay people in a UN resolution condemning executions. Arabic and African countries successfully amended the measure in a vote last month.

Mr Ban said: “Where there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, universal human rights must carry the day.

“Personal disapproval, even society’s disapproval, is no excuse to arrest, detain, imprison, harass or torture anyone – ever.”

He said he had been asked by a Ugandan gay rights campaigner, Frank Mugisha, to call for the end of all laws against homosexuality.

“He asked us to rally support for the decriminalisation of homosexuality everywhere in the world,” Mr Ban said. “And that is what we will do.”

Mr Ban added: “Together, we seek the repeal of laws that criminalise homosexuality, that permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, that encourage violence.

“People were not put on this planet to live in fear of their fellow human beings.”

He urged people to work together to change attitudes.

“Stigma and discrimination will end only when we agree to speak out. “That requires all of us to do our part. To speak out – at home, at work, in our schools and communities,” he said.

Cary Alan Johnson of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said Mr Ban’s statement was important and meaningful.

“It has been a challenging year for LGBT rights at the United Nations,” he said.

“We have seen conservative forces try to keep organisations like IGLHRC out of the UN and we’ve suffered some painful setbacks as these same governments work to eliminate or prevent human rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“The importance of this event and the support of figures like the UN secretary-general and US ambassador cannot be underestimated.”