UN, US officials call for gay rights

UN chief stressed the need to pay urgent attention to gender identity rights.

New York: UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for an end to laws around the world that criminalise homosexuality, stressing the need to pay more urgent attention to gay and gender identity rights today as the world marked Human Rights Day.

"Today, many nations have modern constitutions that guarantee essential rights and liberties. And yet, homosexuality is considered a crime in more than 70 countries," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "That is not right."

Ban said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, "is not called the `partial` declaration of human rights. It is not the `sometimes` declaration of human rights. It is the universal declaration, guaranteeing all human beings their basic human rights - without exception."

The UN chief said that during recent trips to Africa he urged leaders to do away with laws criminalising homosexuality, and that in Malawi he was able to help secure the release of a young gay couple sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu also spoke by teleconference to the high-level gathering organised at UN headquarters by advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender people, comparing their struggle to the fight for an end to apartheid in his native South Africa.

US Ambassador Susan Rice echoed Ban`s remarks, and said that the United Nations must send a strong message that people should not be tortured and killed because they are gay.

Rice said she was "incensed" by a recent vote in a General Assembly committee that left out any mention of sexual orientation from a resolution condemning the extra-judicial killing of vulnerable people worldwide. Previous resolutions had included the mention.

The American ambassador said that the United States will sponsor a UN amendment to restore the reference to killings based on sexual orientation. "We`re going to stand firm on this basic principle," she said.