International: Open letter to President of the Human Rights Council regarding sexual orientation and gender identity

Ms. Laura Dupuy Laserre
President of the Human Rights Council
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Your Excellency,

We, the international solidarity network Women Living Under Muslim Laws, the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies, the Violence is Not Our Culture International Campaign and the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, and the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights are writing to express our appreciation for your support and leadership in hosting the upcoming panel at the UN Human Rights Council on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

The spirit of the UDHR is instrumental to our advocacy efforts, and it is our understanding that the authors and signatories of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) recognized the need to protect against all forms of discrimination, regardless of “status,” including statuses that had not been articulated or officially recognized at the time. This includes sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

We note that discrimination on the basis of SOGI can and has been used to deny fundamental rights that are guaranteed to all individuals under international law. This includes not only the UDHR, but also Articles 17 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Articles 2, 4, and 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as the indivisible and connected rights guaranteed by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss and strengthen these mechanisms, which exist to protect and promote human rights for all globally.

As a transnational network working to promote the rights of women and minorities whose lives are governed by laws said to be derived from Islam (WLUML), a coalition working for the protection of sexual and bodily rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), an international campaign against culturally justified violence against women (VNC), as well as a global network working to promote sexual and reproductive rights (WGNRR), we also express our concern at the position of the OIC on sexual orientation and gender identity. We feel strongly that creating a dialogue and open discussion on the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity is essential to the full promotion of the principles set forth in the UDHR.

We affirm the need to bear diverse religious and cultural backgrounds in mind stated in the Vienna Declaration, but we are increasingly concerned that the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) is passing from the principle that religion must be “borne in mind” with regard to human rights, to making supreme a single interpretation of religion in international laws. We find this contrary to the spirit of the UDHR, especially Article 18, which affirms the beliefs of numerous Muslim scholars and practitioners who find no contradiction between their understandings of Islam and the existence of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Similarly, scholars and practicing Muslims the world over have recognized that gender equality and women’s rights are not incompatible with Islam.

We note that Pakistan, an OIC member state which voted for and re-affirmed its commitment to the UDHR at several UN meetings, recognises the rights of diverse orientations and identities. We appreciate the Pakistani Supreme Court’s ground-breaking ruling on 23 December 2009, invoking the spirit of the UDHR, which mandated that hijras be officially recognized as a third gender on national identity cards and resulted in a commission to protect the full exercise of their rights, including access to education, inheritance, and more. Regrettably, the government of Pakistan has moved extremely slowly in implementation.

We look forward to the panel, and offer our full support in promoting the discussions and results that come out of this important initiative.


Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)
The Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR)
Violence is Not Our Culture (VNC)
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR)