Thursday, December 2, 2010

117. Controversy About Cuban Delegation Vote on "Sexual Orientation" at the UN

By Dalia Acosta, IPS, December 1, 2010 

An unusually strong controversy has broken out in Cuba over a vote by the delegation from this Caribbean nation in favour of an amendment that left out the specific mention of sexual orientation in a United Nations General Assembly resolution on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions.

In a country where people generally agree with or simply do not question the stances taken by the government in international forums, representatives of different sectors of civil society, as well as the governmental National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX), have expressed concern over the position taken by the Cuban delegation.

"Failure to specifically mention discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation gives the green light for many states and governments to continue to treat homosexuality as a crime," Alberto Roque, president of the sexual diversity unit of the Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for the Study of Sexuality (SOCUMES), told IPS.

Cuba is the only country in Latin America that backed the amendment introduced by Morocco and Mali on behalf of African and Islamic nations that called for replacing the words "sexual orientation" with "discriminatory reasons on any basis."

Cuba thus joined "countries that do not condemn killings and other discriminatory treatment on the basis of sexual orientation, such as 76 countries that criminalise homosexuality, including five where it is punishable by the death penalty," added Roque, a medical doctor who works with CENESEX.

The vote cast by Cuba in the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee, better known as the "Third Committee", of the U.N. General Assembly, which met in November, ran counter to the Cuban government’s support of the U.N. declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, presented to the General Assembly in December 2008 but not yet approved.

Roque said the fact that Cuba was the only Latin American nation which, after supporting the declaration of 2008, now voted in favour of excluding sexual orientation, makes this country "a politically unfavourable scenario" and contradicts the spirit of the National Sex Education Programme.

A joint statement issued Nov. 24 by CENESEX and SOCUMES pointed out that Cuba’s laws do not provide for penalties based on sexual orientation or gender identity and reiterated an interest in offering "a reference framework" to political decision-makers, in order to continue recognising sexual rights as human rights.

The statement was also signed by journalist Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, the creator of the "Paquito el de Cuba" blog and a prominent gay activist, who also published an open letter Monday addressed to Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, under the title "let’s not make a mistake again".

The letter sent to the Foreign Ministry expresses the "total and vigorous disagreement" on the part of "a Cuban citizen, Communist militant and member of the island’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community)."

Rodríguez Cruz warned that "incoherent stances" like the vote in the U.N. could be counterproductive when it comes to overcoming "outdated mental states" that justified homophobic actions after the triumph of the 1959 revolution, and could hinder the promotion of respect for the freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity as a human right.

Cuba’s vote shows that, despite CENESEX’s unflagging efforts over the last few years, the rights of sexual minorities are still not "a political priority," Rodríguez Cruz, a journalist with Trabajadores, the weekly publication of the government-aligned Cuban Confederation of Workers (CTC), commented to IPS.

The reporter said "it also stands out sharply that with its vote, Cuba diverged from the position of strategic allies in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), like Venezuela and Ecuador."

Besides these two countries, the Latin American nations that voted against deleting the explicit mention of sexual orientation were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Bolivia and Nicaragua were among the 26 countries absent when the vote was held.

"I hope that in the future, positions will be adopted on human rights like the ones we have taken on women’s and children’s rights and so many others, even if our vote is not in line with our sister nations from Africa, the Middle East and Asia," Roque said, adding that he was not aware of why the Cuban delegation voted for the amendment.

The amendment was passed on Nov. 16 by a vote of 79 to 70 with 17 abstentions. It was then approved by the Human Rights Committee, and is set to be formally adopted by the U.N. General Assembly this month.

While the removal of the mention of sexual orientation from the resolution on extrajudicial killings has been loudly protested on web sites, blogs, social networking sites and email distribution lists, the government-controlled Cuban media have remained silent on the subject, and the Foreign Ministry has not taken a public stance.

Feminist blogger Yasmín Portales wrote that the vote in the Third Committee "reveals the same resistance met, in society as well as in the government," by a series of legal proposals in favour of the rights of the LGBT community

"Votes like the one Cuba cast on this occasion express the implicit consideration that sexual, reproductive and sexual diversity rights, which to me form part of a single anti- patriarchal package, are negotiable and dispensable in the name of political alliances," the author of the blog "En 2310 y 8225" told IPS. 

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