At a special session of the United Nations' Human Rights Council on Jan. 25 in Geneva, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It was believed to be the first time that a secretary-general directly addressed an official U.N. body specifically on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
"We must reject persecution of people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity -- who may be arrested, detained or executed for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," Ban said. "They may not have popular or political support, but they deserve our support in safeguarding their fundamental human rights."
"I understand that sexual orientation and gender identity raise sensitive cultural issues," he added. "But cultural practice cannot justify any violation of human rights. Women's treatment as second-class citizens has been justified, at times, as a 'cultural practice.' So has institutional racism and other forms of inhuman punishment. But that is merely an excuse. When our fellow humans are persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we must speak out. That is what I am doing here, that is my consistent position. Human rights are human rights everywhere, for everyone."
The council's representative from Nigeria, Ositadinma Anaedu, was surprised by Ban's statement.
"I must point out, Mr. Chair, that the (Africa) Group did not expect that the secretary-general would address these issues concerning lesbians, gays, bigender or indeed the issue of gender identity, as these issues have not been universally accepted," Anaedu said. "While we strongly support that no individual or group should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, (this) should not be used to impose on us or on the cultural ethos of everyone that have it, especially for us in Africa. It is also important to mention that we all equally accept the relationship inherent in that orientation and that it is unique and special, but it is not and will never be accepted as marriage, which is between a man and a woman."