There have been several different developments and highlights at the 31st Human Rights Council session in Geneva this month related to gender identity & expression, sex characteristics and sexual orientation, but I have to admit that the ones that made the biggest impression on me are the ones related to El Salvador’s actions as a member State on these issues.
El Salvador was selected as a member of the Human Rights Council for the United Nations, an inter-governmental body whose 47 member states are responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world, on October 21st 2014 for a period of 3 years. It was the first time El Salvador joined the Council (although the council itself was established in 2006) and while these news came as a shock for many of us who follow the Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) work, it was generally cheered and a moment of pride for us Salvadoran nationals.
One of El Salvador’s first actions however as a member of the UNHRC was joining the core group of Bangladesh, the Russian Federation, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Qatar, Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Uganda on resolution A/HRC/26/L.2 6 on “the Protection of the family” now, before you ask me what is wrong with that I’ll say that I’m pro family, family values are not bad, but this resolution was so controversial that it ultimately went to a vote and was adopted with 26 votes in favor, 14 against, with 6 abstentions, and one State not voting. Many criticized this resolution as a “Failure in recognizing the reality that in all societies, various forms of the family exist” as it references to a singular kind of family and does not includes any diversity language.
El Salvador joining the bloc caught me by surprise, I must admit, but perhaps it shouldn’t have after all El Salvador is a country that flatters itself for its family values (or dare I say Catholic family values?) Besides the resolution merely called the UNHRC for a panel discussion on the topic of family in the next session and asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on the status of the family. Nothing wrong with that right? Even if no other countries in the American continent supported the resolution, even as controversial as it seemed, there was not much to read into it? Correct? Wrong!
This year the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) release a thematic report on family as a result of the “Protection of the Family” resolution. In it there are several references to LGBTI families, for instance the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights makes a call upon States to provide legal recognition of same-sex couples. the report also praised several States that “have introduced changes in their legislation allowing for the legal recognition of relationships between persons of the same sex.” The Committee on the Rights of the Child called for States to protect children from discrimination based on their own or their parents- or legal guardian’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The response of the family protection core-group, which now includes El Salvador as a full frontal and proud member, was that the recognition of a “loose” and “controversial” definition of family can result in a grave threat to the human rights of family members and that children “should be raised in a context of love and harmony within proper family environment.” The statement which was reported by the The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) is surely evidence that the true intentions of this bloc of countries when asking for the report was far from the best interest of families, which in the XXI century come in diverse ways, shapes and forms. It specially puts into evidence a will to undermine the human value of LGBTI persons. This sentiment of unconformity and adversity towards recognizing the rights of sexual minorities is not new at the UN and it’s certainly not new at the international arena, but Why is El Salvador engaging on this? Why is El Salvador becoming one of the leading voices against LGBT inclusion? And is there any political gain to it?
The leftist government of FMLN has proclaimed itself as an LGBTI rights ally and domestically to a great extent they have been, then why would we send such a message internationally? Siding with the biggest homophobe countries out there? El Salvador is the only Latin-American country, actually the only country in the American continent, that joined the bloc in 2014 and once again this month. Countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica in the past have supported resolutions against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination. Culturally we have more in common with these countries, again, why joining the “pro-family” bloc?
This sort of actions consist in a powerful political move and a huge political statement, the “pro-family” bloc is made by the countries with the most extreme life conditions for LGBTI persons, 17 out of the 26 that voted in favor of the original resolution have criminalization laws against same-sex activity between consenting adults. Russia for example has been one of the biggest opponents of the Rights of LGBTI persons, cracking down on activist, censuring LGBT voices through its anti-propaganda laws and approving legislation that prevents funding for reaching civil society organizations. Why would El Salvador join this crowd? Were we the odd kid out trying to find a place to sit at the cafeteria of our new school?
If El Salvador praises to be a pro family State, even if we play the cultural incompatibility card against same-sex marriage (you know the ceremony and contract), wouldn’t we at least be able to recognize the diversity of families out there? the ones that already exist and see everyday? Are we unable to recognize the love between two same-sex partners as a family? Do we dare to deny that between same-sex couples with children a family bond exist? Really? El Salvador joining the “pro-family” bloc is and will continue to be a mystery to me for some time.