26 July 2013
Opening Remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
Free & Equal Campaign Press Launch
Cape Town, 26 July 2013
Opening Remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
Thank you for being here for the launch of the Free & Equal campaign.
I am delighted to be joined today by two dear friends who are also great champions of human rights. Both are towering figures who need no introduction: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron. I am grateful to both of you for your presence and your moral support for this initiative.
The Free & Equal campaign is without precedent. It is the first time that the United Nations has launched a global public education initiative dedicated to combating homophobia and transphobia, and to promoting respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
A campaign like this is critical right now because of the enormous human rights violations suffered by LGBT people.
My office at the United Nations regularly receives reports of individuals who have been attacked, sexually assaulted, kidnapped, tortured, even murdered simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights – no exceptions, no-one left behind. Yet it’s a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and widespread discrimination on a daily basis.
These abuses require a response. Fortunately, a growing number of Governments are responding – with varying degrees of effectiveness – and in recent years we have seen important advances, including the introduction of new legal protections in many countries.
But the situation remains very uneven. In some countries, LGBT people have achieved something approaching full legal equality. In others, a lack of legal protection exposes them to unchecked discrimination at work, at school, in clinics and hospitals and many other areas.
And in more than a third of the world’s countries, consensual, same-sex conduct remains a criminal offence – exposing people to the risk of arrest and imprisonment, hard labour, even, in five countries, the death penalty just because of who they are and whom they love.
So, legal changes are needed. The United Nations human rights office works with countries in all regions to bring their laws into line with international human rights standards. This is one area where there is certainly still plenty of work to be done.
But we know from experience that eradicating discrimination requires more than changes in laws and policies. It takes a change in people’s hearts and minds as well.
I was reminded of this truth when reading about the recent spate of appalling, brutal murders of lesbians here in South Africa – part of a longer term pattern. South Africa has some of the best laws in the world when it comes to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian people but it also has some of the worst cases of homophobic violence. People are literally paying for their love with their lives.
Changing attitudes is never easy. But it has happened on other issues and it is happening already in many parts of the world on this one. It begins with often difficult conversations. With this campaign, we want to help start millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.
Over the coming year, we will be releasing a variety of creative content – including videos, like the one you just watched, articles, maps and other graphics – all intended to dispel negative stereotypes and encourage more informed discussion in the media and among friends and family, policymakers and community leaders.
All campaign materials will be made available on the campaign’s website, UNFE.org, and be designed for easy sharing via social media.
I am pleased to announce that a number of celebrities with a commitment to equality have already pledged to support Free & Equal, including by helping us to get our message out through social media. They include the U.S. pop star Ricky Martin, renowned South African singer and ‘Princess of Africa’ Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly, and Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury. We will be announcing additional celebrity champions of equality as the campaign unfolds.
Finally, like many people, my thoughts in recent weeks have been with President Nelson Mandela – a moral giant not just for this country but for the whole world. I think we have probably all found ourselves reflecting on the lessons President Mandela taught us. Among them, that real equality admits no exceptions … that to enjoy freedom we must not only cast off our own chains, but also learn to live in a way that respects the freedom of others.
Nelson Mandela was also a great believer education as our best safeguard against prejudice. “People are not born hating one another”, he said. “They learn to hate. And if people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
I can think of no greater inspiration for the project we are launching today.
With that, I would like to invite another revered pillar of inspiration and wisdom, Archbishop Tutu, to say a few words.
CAPE TOWN, July 26, 2013 – The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Friday launched Free & Equal, an unprecedented global public education campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.
At a press conference held in Cape Town, South Africa, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was joined by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron of the South African Constitutional Court to announce the year-long project. A statement of support was read out on behalf of renowned South African singer and UNICEF and Roll Back Malaria Goodwill Ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights – no exceptions, no-one left behind,” said High Commissioner Pillay. “Yet it’s still a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and discrimination on a daily basis.”
“Changing attitudes is never easy. But it has happened on other issues and it is happening already in many parts of the world on this one. It begins with often difficult conversations,” Ms. Pillay went on to say. “And that is what we want to do with this campaign. Free & Equal will inspire millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.”
The Free & Equal campaign aims to raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, and encourage greater respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Over the coming year, it will release a variety of creative content along the lines of ‘The Riddle,’ a video released by OHCHR for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and ‘The Story of a Mother from Brazil’, which is the first in a series of films interviewing the family members of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world.
The campaign follows an OHCHR report published in December 2011, which was the first ever official United Nations report on violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. The report documented widespread human rights abuses. Today, more than 76 countries still criminalize consensual, same-sex relationships, while in many more discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is widespread – including in the workplace as well as in the education and health sectors. Hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including physical assault, sexual violence, and targeted killings, has been recorded in all regions of the world.
The campaign will focus on the need for both legal reforms and public education to counter homophobia and transphobia.
A number of celebrities with a commitment to equality have pledged their support for Free & Equal by becoming United Nations equality champions and helping to spread campaign messages and materials via social media. These include the pop star Ricky Martin, South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly, and Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury. Additional equality champions will be announced as the campaign unfolds.
The full text of the High Commissioner's speech is attached
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Learn more about the Free & Equal campaign at www.unfe.org
Free & Equal is an initiative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) implemented in partnership with the Purpose Foundation – a leader in building global, social media-driven campaigns on human rights-related issues.
For use of the information media; not an official record