“A shameful day in United Nations history”*

Yesterday the UN General Assembly voted on a resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of people based on identity (street children, linguistic groups, etc.). Sounds good, right? Well, not exactly. The resolution initially included sexual minorities, but an amendment to remove sexual minorities from the list was introduced. And passed. And then the resolution passed. Which means, basically, that while nations agree they should refrain from killing people because they are part of a group, they did not agree to extend that protection to people who are bisexual, lesbian, gay, transgender. You could say those nations wanted to reserve the “right” to summarily execute people based on sexual orientation. (You can see lists of how nations on the amendment to remove sexual orientation from the resolution here. The U.S., I’m happy to say, voted against the amendment, and then abstained on the resolution, in part because the amendment had passed.)

How could this happen? What, after all, is the purpose of the U.N.? According to the United Nations’ website, the organization is “committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights” (emphasis added). According to the U.N.’s CyberSchoolbus, “The purpose of the United Nations is to bring all nations of the world together to work for peace and development, based on the principles of justice, human dignity and the well-being of all people.” It says “all people,” not all people unless they’re. . . y’know — “funny.”

I find myself thinking about Germany in the early- to mid-1930s. Before the cattle trains, before the death camps. I’m talking about that period during which speeches were being made, when participation in public life was being legislated away, bit by bit. When life carried on pretty much as normal for the majority of Germans. I’ve no doubt there were plenty of people who were concerned, who didn’t believe their fellow citizens should be persecuted, turned into second class citizens because they were Jewish or Roma, who never imagined where it would all lead. I’ll be they thought, well, it won’t get that bad; these are modern times, things can’t get that crazy. What did those good, ordinary citizens do to try to stop the train that was running before it got that crazy? What could they do?

I don’t know. Just like I don’t know what we can do now to stop this insanity, from Uganda and its punishable-by-death legislation to this recent action by the General Assembly. But I’m sure we have to find ways to speak up, to take action. We can’t just sigh and say, well, it’s awful, but it won’t get that crazy. Maybe it won’t. With all my heart I hope it doesn’t. But what if it does?

*Peter Tatchell, human rights, democracy, LGBT freedom and global justice campaigner

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