In more than 70 countries homosexuality remains a criminal offence, exposing individuals not only to arrest, detention and in some cases execution by government authorities, but also to higher levels of homophobic abuse in society at large.
Mr Ban conceded that gay rights was a controversial issue, but made it clear that violence and discrimination cannot be justified cultural grounds.
“Where there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, universal human rights must carry the day”, Mr Ban said, adding that “Personal disapproval, even society's disapproval, is no excuse to arrest, detain, imprison, harass or torture anyone - ever.”
See photos from today's event on Flickr.
US Ambassador Susan Rice also called for an end to laws that criminalize gay relationships. Ambassador Rice used the occasion to announce that the US would work to reintroduce a reference to sexual orientation in the resolution on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions when the text comes up for General Assembly approval later this month.
Norway, on behalf of the Nordic countries, said it would join the United States in working to reintroduce the reference, which highlights that LGBT persons are at particular risk of unlawful killings.
Mr Ban’s speech marks the first time a sitting Secretary-General has exclusively addressed the issue of LGBT rights at a debate at the United Nations. Earlier this year a statement at a similar event in Geneva was read out on behalf of Mr Ban. In May the Secretary-General spoke out against the discrimination of LGBT persons on a visit to Malawi, where he also helped secure the release of a gay couple arrested because of their sexual orientation. Today’s event reaffirmed Mr. Ban’s personal commitment to the issue.
The human rights defenders Linda Reanate Magano Baumann, Justus Eisfeld and Vidyaratha Kissoon also spoke at the event.
The event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Gabon, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the United States and the European Union. This core group of member states is working to improve dialogue and shared understanding of the issue of LGBT rights.