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Rep. Chris Smith vs. international rights

July 14, 2010

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who’s my own representative in Congress, is sending out a letter to foreign governments asking them to block the United Nations from officially recognizing the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Just as when he voted against the Matthew Shepard Act, he’s claiming those who are trying to protect LGBT people are actually trying to muzzle religion.

Specifically, Rep. Smith says IGLHRC hasn’t said if it would seek to punish anyone who preaches homosexuality is immoral. The group has already said it supports free speech and is only looking to prevent violence against sexual minorities. Its application for “consultative status” at the U.N. has been held up for three years in a subcommittee by anti-gay UN member states like Egypt. (Recent article here.) The U.S. is apparently looking to get IGLHRC’s application through the subcommittee and to the larger Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for a full vote, and so Smith is actually sending a letter out to foreign leaders asking them to stop his own country from protecting a vulnerable minority.

Luckily, other leaders in the U.S. are planning a resolution to ask ECOSOC to give IGLHRC a fair chance. Susan Rice, a permanent American representative to the U.N., recently put out a statement that mentions her support for IGLHRC’s application.

“If the (NGO) committee is allowed to block organizations because they don’t like their politics and prevent ECOSOC from ever voting on their applications, civil society at the UN will be severely limited and its diversity and independence at risk,” an IGLHRC spokesperson told me. “This resolution is opposing this kind of discrimination.”

Rep. Smith’s full letter is below the jump, but here are a few highlights:

Serious questions regarding the IGLHRC’s support for the internationally recognized rights to freedom of religion and freedom of express remain outstanding in the NGO Committee. Consequently, a forced, premature action in ECOSOC to approve the IGLHRC would potentially undermine these important rights, as well as the long established due process for NGO review.

Remember that the NGO Committee is taking an unusually long time on this application and has repeatedly denied its application for no legitimate reason. That unprecedented move is actually what’s undermining the UN’s review process.

As per its responsibilities, the NGO Committee is currently reviewing the application of IGLHRC for “promotion and protection” of human rights… In previous answers, the IGLHRC has stated before the Committee that States should, “Ensure that the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression does not violate the rights and freedoms of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities,” quoting the controversial Yogyakarta Principles, of which the IGLHRC is a strong advocate. Given this answer, the NGO Committee has asked the IGLHRC to clarify its position on the freedoms of religion and expression by asking the following question:

If a religion teaches that sexual relations other than between a man and a woman within wedlock is wrong, would the IGLHRC support the prosecution of a religious preacher for what he or she preaches against homosexuality, and would that be, in the organization’s view, consistent with the Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?

It seems to me IGLHRC has already given a completely straightforward answer and is getting a very convoluted question in response. The Yogyakarta Principles are hardly some shadowy international agreement. They’re a legal framework set up by a coalition of human rights groups to protect sexual minorities, and are named for a meeting in Yogyakarta, India.

His question is a best misleading as no one is looking to “criminalize” or “prosecute” anyone, regardless of religion, for saying anti-gay things unless they fit exceptions for direct calls to violence. In short, say what you believe, but don’t round up posses to persecute people.

Our individual human rights pre-exist government, but are only protected by our leaders’ exercise of due process and vigilance. Consequently, I respectfully urge you to refuse attempts to circumvent UN procedure and secure a premature approval of the IGLHRC in the ECOSOC.

The irony in Rep. Smith’s invocation of freedom of speech to try to quash just that is hard to swallow. IGLHRC, which does important work throughout the world protecting sexual minorities, deserves to be treated just like every other human rights organization that seeks consultative status.

What can you do? IGLHRC has a petition to ask for fair treatment, and they’re particularly asking for groups to sign it. (In the interest of full disclosure, I helped with the French translation of that letter, but it was volunteer work.) NJ residents should also call Rep. Smith and let his staffer know you live in his district and you don’t approve of his fighting international gay and lesbian human rights in your name. His phone numbers are here, and you can check if you’re in his district (4) here.

Below you’ll find the full letter, which you can also read as a PDF:

Your Excellency,

It has come to my attention as the Republican Congressional Representative to the United Nations, and to the attention of Representative Trent Franks, Chairman of the congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus, that there will be an attempt to bypass the Committee on Non-Governmental Organization (NGO Committee) process and consider in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) an application by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) for special consultative status. Serious questions regarding the IGLHRC’s support for the internationally recognized rights to freedom of religion and freedom of express remain outstanding in the NGO Committee. Consequently, a forced, premature action in ECOSOC to approve the IGLHRC would potentially undermine these important rights, as well as the long established due process for NGO review.

In Resolution 1996/21, the ECOSOC established both the process and criteria for an NGO to gain the privileges of “consultative status” within the United Nations system. The NGO Committee members, “elected by the Council on the basis of equitable geographical representation,” are tasked with responsibility “to consider applications for general consultative status and special consultative status and for listing on the Roster and by non-governmental organizations and requests for changes in status, and to make recommendations thereon to the Council.” Specifically, the NGO Committee is to consider whether an NGO “to be accorded special consultative status because of their interest in the field of human rights… pursue[s] the goals of promotion and protection of human rights in accordance with the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.” Article 18 and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration include the right to freedom of religion (Art. 18) and the right to freedom of expression (Art. 19), which state:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance (Article 18), and

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers (Article 19).

As per its responsibilities, the NGO Committee is currently reviewing the application of IGLHRC for “promotion and protection” of human rights, including those listed above. In previous answers, the IGLHRC has stated before the Committee that States should, “Ensure that the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression does not violate the rights and freedoms of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities,” quoting the controversial Yogyakarta Principles, of which the IGLHRC is a strong advocate. Given this answer, the NGO Committee has asked the IGLHRC to clarify its position on the freedoms of religion and expression by asking the following question:

If a religion teaches that sexual relations other than between a man and a woman within wedlock is wrong, would the IGLHRC support the prosecution of a religious preacher for what he or she preaches against homosexuality, and would that be, in the organization’s view, consistent with the Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?

The IGLHRC has yet to answer this extremely important question that goes to the heart of human rights protected by the United Nations system. Unless and until IGLHRC chooses to answer this important question in a way compatible with the internationally agreed human rights, its review for the privileges of special consultative status will be incomplete and the ECOSOC should decline the application.

Our individual human rights pre-exist government, but are only protected by our leaders’ exercise of due process and vigilance. Consequently, I respectfully urge you to refuse attempts to circumvent UN procedure and secure a premature approval of the IGLHRC in the ECOSOC. Preservation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion require that IGLHRC undergo further review in the standard review process.

I thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Member of Congress

TRENT FRANKS

Member of Congress

2 Comments leave one →
  1. JoyZeeBoy permalink
    July 15, 2010 9:03 am

    Smith is a d-bag who views his prime constituency as the blue-haired retirees in Whiting and the active duty military personnel at Ft. Dix/McGuire/Lakehurst. Mercer County is as alien as Mars to him.

    And calling his office to register an objection to anything is like yelling into an empty barrel.

    I’d like to know how to unseat him.

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