In Uruguay on Wednesday an international coalition was launched for equal rights worldwide for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. Foreign minister Bert Koenders and his Uruguayan opposite number Rodolfo Novoa jointly opened the conference, which the Netherlands and Uruguay co-organised.
Government representatives attended from every continent. Several countries, including South Africa, the US, Spain and Argentina, have already joined the Equal Rights Coalition. The number of participating countries, currently 18, is growing steadily. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon thanked the Netherlands and Uruguay for organising the conference, saying, ‘Ending rights abuses against LGBT and intersex people is a great human rights cause at the heart of the UN’s founding mission.’
Free and equal in dignity and rights
As the coalition’s name makes clear, its aim is not to win special rights for a special group, but rather to guarantee equal rights for all. ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” Mr Koenders emphasised. ‘That makes justice for LGBTI people a test of our universal values.’ In his speech, heard by more than 200 country and organisational representatives, he said: ‘The future can be as bright as a rainbow – but only if we join forces for change.’
Last month’s ‘heinous attack in Orlando’ shows how badly the coalition and its concerted, resolute approach are needed, the minister said. He set out the Netherlands’ specific focuses in this field: combating discrimination and violence, fostering social acceptance and decriminalising homosexuality worldwide.
Tribute to Uruguay’s leadership role
Promoting LGBTI equal rights is one of the Netherlands’ foreign policy priorities, and cooperation with other countries is crucial to making headway. Mr Koenders stressed that launching the Equal Rights Coalition in Montevideo was a tribute to Uruguay’s leadership role on the issue, and that the Netherlands highly values its partnership with Uruguay on LGBTI rights.
Uruguay is not only playing a pioneering role in Latin America, but is also in the front ranks globally in advocating equal rights for the LGBTI community. It recently joined six other Latin American countries in an initiative in the UN Human Rights Council to appoint an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The expert is tasked with raising awareness of these human rights violations and helping countries combat them.