Speaking at a headquarters press briefing on Friday, the International Day Against Homophobia, Deputy Head of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) Maarit Kohonen Sheriff said further work must still be done by the UN and other groups to prevent the execution of men and women on the basis of sexual orientation.
“The death penalty is just like LGBT issues, one of the very sensitive issues that nobody wants to address,” Sheriff tells MediaGlobal. The UNHCR addresses the death penalty and LGBT rights together, explains Sheriff, “We focus equally, but we focus on the death penalty overall anyway because in the UN nobody else does.”
“We cannot promote and protect human rights if we don’t include the rights of LGBT people in this struggle,” Sheriff said at the briefing. Today “is not an official UN day. Its not been declared an official UN day by the General Assembly, and that in itself speaks volumes.”
According to Executive Director of the UN Joint UN Program on HIV and AIDS Michel Sidibe, who also spoke at the briefing, the death penalty still exists as punishment for same-sex acts in seven countries, three of them in Least Developed Countries, and 78 countries still view these acts as illegal.
Currently, executing someone based on his or her sexual orientation is a breach of international human rights law. However, Human Rights Watch reported that nearly one-third of the 193 United Nations Member States criminalize homosexual acts, with 38 of those countries located in Africa.
In Uganda and Ethiopia in the past year, where being gay is already considered illegal, political and religious groups have advocated for legislation that would execute those convicted of homosexuality.
“People are not informed, they don’t have the chance to talk about it,” says Sheriff. “They don’t know that statistics show that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent for crime. So that’s why we say when talking about LGBT, people have an opinion but not an informed opinion.”