On Thursday, the United Nations narrowly passed an amendment to a measure on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. The amendment deleted just three words from the draft document. Unfortunately, it also immeasurably damaged the struggle for LGBTQ rights worldwide.
Before it was amended, the document urged investigation of all killings "committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation." The amendment, removing that reference to sexuality, was removed thanks to efforts by the African Group in the General Assembly and the Islamic Conference. Both claimed, according to the Huffington Post, that there was "no foundation for gays in international human rights instruments as there was in cases of race, gender and religious discrimination."
The consequences of this should not need spelling out. As British representative Nicola Freedman pointed out;
To accept this amendment would be to accept that this particularly vulnerable group of people do not deserve specific mention, perhaps even to suggest that they do not warrant the same protection from killings. To us this suggestion is an affront to equality and respect for human dignity.
And so it is. The fact that 30 of 50 African nations criminalise homosexuality and that homosexuality is a crime punishable by death in all Islamic nations, is no coincidence. Those countries which actively persecute queer people have united to defend that stance on an international level.
As Peter Tatchell noted, this "gives a de facto green light to the on-going murder of LGBT people by homophobic regimes, death squads and vigilantes," who "will take comfort from the fact that the UN does not endorse the protection of LGBT people against hate-motivated violence and murder." It also allows countries "to ensure that their anti-gay policies are not scrutinised or condemned."
This vote goes to show, beyond doubt, that cultural relativism is nothing more than a toleration of tyranny and bigotry in different cultures. Rights are, and should be, universal no matter how many despots wave culture or religion as a totem to ward off criticism.