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Thursday, October 20, 2016
- When the UN Postal Administration recently unveiled a set of six new commemorative stamps — as part of a global campaign promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities — it did not expect a furious backlash as it did, mostly from the 54 members of the African Group and from Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council.
Speaking on behalf of the African Group at the UN, Justin Kisoka a Minister Counselor at the Tanzanian Mission to the United Nations, expressed his “very serious” concern at the Secretary-General’s “alarming” introduction, printing and circulation of stamps under the “Free and Equal” campaign.
The release of the new stamps, he said, “contravened the United Nations’ principles, as well as the culture, norms and beliefs of many Member States, casting a shadow on the adherence to rules and regulations governing use of the United Nations logo and resources.”
Addressing the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee (also known as the Fifth Committee) last week, he went one step further “demanding the campaign’s immediate cessation” and also requested implementation of accountability measures, including recovery of the funds used to finance the stamp campaign.
He also demanded that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon provide details on the funds used for the campaign, as well as on the related rules and regulations.
Asked for his comments, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “You’re aware of the Secretary-General’s strong and consistent support for the Free and Equal campaign and his belief that the human rights of all people must be upheld.”
Beyond that, he said, “I’d have no further comment on the stamps issue.”
Backing the African Group, Sergey Khalizov of the Russian Federation said the Secretary-General’s activities “had caused serious issues for a range of delegations.”
He said consideration of the use of resources from the UN’s regular budget was a Fifth Committee prerogative.
He questioned the justification of mandates of leading UN bodies and said he was ready to engage in a discussion in the Committee on several issues raised by the African Group.
The campaign for LGBT rights is being led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.
Boris Dittrich, Advocacy Director, LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the stamps were published within the framework of the Free and Equal Campaign of the United Nations.
“They reflect that fundamental rights like the freedom of expression, the right to privacy and non-discrimination, belong to each individual, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity is.”
He pointed out that the stamps reflect the spirit of two UN resolutions adopted in 2011 and 2015 by the UN Human Rights Council denouncing discrimination and violence against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Instead of attacking the UN for publishing a series of stamps, the African group and Russia should focus on eliminating discrimination and violence against LGBT people in their countries,” declared Dittrich.
Currently, there is a list of some 79 countries with anti-gay laws, 34 of them in Africa, including Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Angola, Botswana, and Tanzania.
In an interview, the artist who designed the stamps was quoted as saying he was heavily influenced by art from the first quarter of the 20th Century.
Sergio Baradat, who is of Cuban background, said his style stems from his appreciation for French Art Deco and growing up in Miami, Florida.
“One of the stamps represents someone who is transgender,” Baradat told UN Radio, referring to the stamp that depicts a person with butterfly wings, an image he says represents a person “becoming who they really are, blossoming.”
“We live in a world where even though [developed] nations have embraced marriage equality [and] LBGT equality, we still have a far, far, far way to go, but we are making some strides,” he added.
“There are some countries in the world right now where not only are we not celebrated or respected, but we are beaten and killed. And I thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity using art, to use postage stamps as a vehicle – using art to change hearts and minds.”
He also stressed that LGBT rights are human rights and that all individuals deserve to be treated equally and fairly under the law.
The series is co-sponsored by the permanent missions of Argentina, Australia, Chile, El Salvador, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, the UK, the United States, and Uruguay, the delegation of the European Union, in addition to OHCHR and the UN Postal Administration.
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