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LGBT Groups Slow to Gain Formal Recognition at UN

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2010 (IPS) - Gay rights organisations are heartened by the official United Nations accreditation granted to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHR) last week, after a prolonged three-year struggle.

Consultative status allows LGBT NGOs to share information and analysis of the abuses and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity taking place around the world at U.N. meetings, as well as organise events on U.N. premises.

It was not until December of 2008 that the subject of LGBT rights was actively discussed in the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

ECOSOC, consisting of 54 member states of the U.N., grants consultative status to NGOs after reviewing recommendations made by its subsidiary body – the NGO Committee – which screens the applications.

Now, one of the world’s largest global LGBT organisations, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association (ILGA), is hopeful that its application will gain similar consideration.

Other LGBT Groups with Consultative Status

ECOSOC, overturning the NGO Committee's denials, approved the Danish National Association for Gay and Lesbians (LBL), the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA- Europe), and the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD) in December 2006.

In July 2007, the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Québec (CGQL) and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) gained consultative status.

COC Netherlands and the Spanish Federation of LGBT Groups (FEGLT) were granted the status in July 2008.

The U.S.-based International Wages Due Lesbians and Australian- based Coalition of Activist Lesbians have had consultative status at the U.N. for more than a decade.

ILGA originally applied for status in January 2010, Joob Theunissen, deputy chief of the NGO Branch of the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination (OESC) and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), told IPS.

Theunissen could not comment on the organisation’s progress since ILGA initially applied.

Although ILGA declined to comment in regards to the submission of their application, the organisation has a page on their website titled, “ILGA at the United Nations,” which remains blank, but ready to be updated.

However, the process for status to be granted to organisations is clearly a lengthy one.

Despite what the IGLHRC argued to be full compliance with all procedures, the organisation stated it faced constant deferrals, homophobic questioning, and procedural roadblocks in the ECOSOC NGO Committee.

The group’s primary criticism regarded the length of time it took to receive status, arguing that three years, in addition to the logistics of the procedure, was excessive.

However, Theunissen told IPS, “In the last (May) session of the Committee in 2010, it reviewed 242 applications and recommended 76 applications for consultative status. The rest were deferred. A few organisations have been deferred for a long period.”

The NGO Committee voted to block any action at the session held on Jun. 3 regarding its application. The motion carried, preventing consultative status being granted and delaying approval.

In June, although the U.S. demanded that immediate action be taken given the merits of the IGLHRC’s application, Egypt called for a motion of no-action on that vote, arguing that IGLHRC’s answers to its questions were not “sufficiently straight”, according to the press release issued by the organisation.

Nihal Saad, of the Press Office of the Egyptian Consulate to the U.N., told IPS that Egypt opposed status being granted because the subsidiary committee at ECOSOC was still in the process of reviewing all applications and requests from other NGOs.

“Some of them even date back to 1999 like the Kashmiri- American Council, so to single out that particular application reflects a precedent that jeopardises the legitimacy and the credibility of the committee,” he continued.

However, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative Rosemary DiCarlo led an ECOSOC resolution pushing to overrule the NGO Committee, requesting that consultative status be granted to IGLHRC.

The U.S.-led resolution passed with 23 states in favour, 13 opposed, 13 abstentions, and five absences – making IGLHRC the first U.S.-based LGBT organisation in over 10 years to gain consultative status with ECOSOC, according to the organisation itself.

“The U.S., notably, did vote to approve other non-U.S. based organisations in previous years under the previous administration,” Perle told IPS. “What is clear is that the U.S. took a leadership role in advocating for IGLHRC’s application and, more broadly, non-discrimination in the NGO Committee of ECOSOC.”

DiCarlo stated, “The IGLHRC can join the U.N.’s vibrant community of civil society organisations, as it so richly deserves.”

One such civil organisation is the Brazilian Federation of LGBT Groups (Associação Brasileira de Gays, Léssicas e Transgêneros, ABGLT), the first LGBT organisation from the Southern Hemisphere to receive consultative status.

ABGLT Brazil joined about 3,000 other NGOs with consultative status at the U.N. last year, on Jul. 27.

However, only a handful of LGBT groups have received such status.

According to IGLHRC, “we are only the tenth organisation working primarily for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) human rights to gain such status at the United Nations.”

With the exception of the Federation of Dutch Associations for Integration of Homosexuality COC Netherlands (COC), ECOSOC has only granted such groups’ consultative status after first overturning negative recommendations from its NGO Committee.

When asked why the NGO Committee consistently denied requests for such status to IGLHRC and like organisations, Theunissen told IPS that this was a question for each of the individual member states of the NGO Committee to answer.

Theunissen declined to comment when asked if the organisation’s inherent controversy had anything to do with the NGO Committee’s resistance.

Theunissen told IPS, “Every NGO has the right to apply for consultative status.”

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