‘Traditional values’ as a tool to deny rights to LGBTs

Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT program for Human Rights Watch

Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights Program for Human Rights Watch

Traditions can create a sense of connectedness between the present and the past, but they can also be used to deny rights to women and sexual minorities, warns Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

In an essay published by CNN, he writes:

The U.N. Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution on “traditional values of humankind” as a vehicle for “promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It sounds innocuous, but its implications are ominous. Indeed, it is an immediate threat to the rights of many vulnerable groups – including women and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) people. And it flies in the face of the founding principles of universality and indivisibility enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That resolution, sponsored by Russia, is part of what Reid calls “a pernicious development” — “the recent proliferation of laws in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that seek to curtain freedom of speech by clamping down on ‘homosexual propaganda’ under the pretext of ‘protecting children.’ ”  He explains:

These laws are vaguely defined and have the effect of outlawing any supportive messages or activism around LGBT issues. Laws have, for example, been passed or are under discussion in Ukraine, Moldova, Lithuania, Hungary and in Russia’s regions.

In March, St. Petersburg became one of the nine regions in Russia to adopt such a law (upheld, albeit restricted, by the Supreme Court in October), a dangerous precedent for similar legislation to be imposed nationwide. The law explicitly conflates homosexuality with pedophilia and outlaws “creating distorted perceptions about social equality of traditional and non-traditional family relationships.”

Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister (Photo by Kai Mork via Wikimedia Commons)

Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister (Photo by Kai Mork via Wikimedia Commons)

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov justified these propaganda laws by arguing that the human rights of LGBT people were nothing but an outside “appendage to the universal values.” We can see where “traditional values” is headed.

He explains his aversion to the argument in favor of tradition in part because of his background as a native of South Africa, where the discriminatory traditions of apartheid were replaced with a bill of rights for all people.

He adds:

Tradition has been used to justify forced marriage, virginity testing, so-called honor crimes, family violence and marital rape. It is also used to justify the imprisonment of gay men and rape of lesbians.

What is going on here, behind the euphemistic language of the resolution, is very clear: this is a pushback against the incremental claims of women and LGBT people. The “traditional values resolution” is the latest in a series of resolutions that edge the Human Rights Council closer to a relativist position on human rights. If we continue to go down this path then everything is potentially relative and determined by vague concepts such as culture and tradition.

For those who are seen to exist outside the neatly defined parameters of culture, this is especially troubling. There is no doubt that governments will continue to use traditional values as a way of justifying human rights abuses, particularly against the most marginal and vulnerable members of society.

But it will be a sad day for the United Nations if human rights abusers are able to turn to a “traditional values” resolution to back up their spurious claims. When it comes to human rights, universal and relative cannot coexist.

Read the full essay here: “‘Traditional Values’ code for human rights abuse?”

2 thoughts on “‘Traditional values’ as a tool to deny rights to LGBTs

  1. Pingback: Photo exhibit will show gay asylum seekers from Russia | 76 CRIMES

  2. Pingback: Violence, arrests at gay-rights protest in Ukraine | 76 CRIMES

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