Education International
Education International

IDAHO: Governments must honour human rights’ obligations

published 16 May 2013 updated 17 May 2013

On the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia on 17 May, EI calls on governments to honour the obligations outlined in the UN Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action (UN VDPA, June 1993). Those obligations have been affirmed as universal, indivisible and consistent with all human rights.

EI celebrates the progress achieved towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the last 20 years. It urges member organisations to take more concrete steps to advance non-discriminatory quality education, making human and trade union rights the centre of our union actions plans.

Progress… but not enough

Homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 17 May 1990. However, 70 countries still criminalise same-sex relationships, and five enforce the death penalty against homosexuals.

Achieving equality and non-discrimination

Education is a basic human right that empowers people to exercise all of their fundamental rights, including trade union rights, without discrimination of any kind.

“In the school environment, homophobia is a direct violation of the right to quality education,” said UNESCO Director Irina Bokova. Schools are “a safe environment which States are responsible for guaranteeing”, she added.

Quality education requires all schools to address discrimination - challenging prejudices and gender stereotypes, harassment and bullying, including homophobic harassment.

Free, public and inclusive school systems require all the necessary financial means, including teacher-education programmes that promote meaningful, engaged learning for every student,    regardless of gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, and ethnic background, among others.

Training for teachers should outline how to promote anti-discriminatory behaviour in the classroom; it should ensure the inclusion of human rights and non-homophobic training for teachers at all levels. Recruitment policies should reflect the full spectrum of society, in terms of gender, class, ethnic origins or beliefs, sexuality, disability, and migrant communities.

Governments must be pro-active in promoting inclusive recruitment policies and must remove any barriers to entry to the teacher profession– including discrimination against LGBT people at work - arising from sexist, racist or homophobic beliefs and behaviour.

20 years on: The struggle continues for LGBT rights

The Vienna UN World Conference on Human Rights (1993) was a vital step forward in recognising human rights. During the conference, lobbied for by civil society organisations, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Right (OHCHR) was created. The OHCHR has since successfully addressed discrimination against LGBT people.

In March 2012, the first formal UN debate on LGBT issues was held at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UN resolution, “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”, adopted by the Human Rights Council (17 June 2011), commissioned the UN report, “Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity”.

The report, released by the OHCHR, outlines “a pattern of human rights violations… that demands a response”, and says governments have too often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

At an international level, the rise in conservatism - and fundamentalism in certain countries - is a matter of concern. Some States, conservative and religious groups are blocking the realisation of human rights for all by making statements that seek to weaken the human rights language enshrined in previous agreements.

They have opposed provisions which would have further enhanced the set of measures against gender-based violence and further enshrined sexual and health rights, LGBT rights or migrant rights.

Manipulation of intent

Today, some States seek to manipulate the words of the Vienna Declaration to give them the exact opposite meaning than intended. Instead of the ‘universality’ of human rights, they speak of ‘universally recognised’ human rights, seeking to exclude those they do not recognise.

Additionally, they invoke the principle of ‘non-discrimination’, and then explain why this principle does not apply to LGBT people. Appeals to ‘traditional values’ are increasing, substituting cultural relativism for universal standards.

Social reforms, such as same-sex marriage adopted by France, aroused strong opposition from conservative and ultra-catholic groups – in a country where the Roman Catholic Church was thought to have lost much of its influence over the public.

No more words, time for action

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that homophobic bullying is "a moral outrage, a grave violation of human rights and a public health crisis".

EI holds similarly strong views. “Education unions have a role to play in promoting actions to prevent discrimination, including homophobia and transphobia, in trade union and in education,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen.

“EI is making sure that the human rights of all trade union members are protected from discrimination at the workplace, particularly for LGBT people, whose very existence is denied by some governments.”

EI calls on all members to defend, and expand, trade union rights, including the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for all, including LGBT people.

Additional links:

The High Commissioner's report to the Human Rights Council on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity(15 December 2011)

UNESCO's Booklet "Good Policy and Practice in HIV and Health Education"

The State of Homophobia 2013