Human rights groups have praised last week’s landmark United Nations vote condemning extrajudicial killings that for the first time included killings based on gender identity.

On Tuesday, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted to pass a resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Notably, the vote reversed the events of 2010 when the same body voted to strip the resolution of reference to “sexual orientation.”

The assembly also expanded its commitment to the universality of human rights by including “gender identity” for the first time in the resolution’s history.

The resolution, which is introduced every two years, urges countries to protect the right to life of all people, including by calling upon states to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds.

In 2010, South Africa was shamefully one of the countries that voted to remove sexual orientation from the resolution. At the time, South Africa’s UN representative justified this position by claiming that international law is insufficiently clear on the definition of sexual orientation.

On Tuesday, however, South Africa espoused its recent more human-rights based approach and backed the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the resolution. It was also among the countries that condemned a proposed amendment to remove these references.

The United Arab Emirates, on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, presented the amendment to change “sexual orientation and gender identity” to “or for any other reason”.

The Government of Egypt stated that it was “gravely alarmed at the attempt to legitimate undetermined concepts like gender identity” by equating them with other forms of discrimination such as that based on race, colour, sex, religion, and language. In reference to sexual orientation and gender identity, Egypt commented, “We are alarmed at the attempts to make new rights or new standards.”

The anti-gay proposal was rejected with 44 votes in favour, 86 against, and 31 abstentions and 32 absent. The full and inclusive resolution passed with 108 votes in favour, one against, 65 abstentions, and 19 absent.

“More than half of the world’s nations have now spoken, and we call upon the minority of countries that still oppose LGBT rights to bring their laws into conformity with international standards,” commented Kim Vance, Co-Director, Arc International.

“With [Tuesday’s] UN vote, a majority of governments worldwide decisively rebutted the ideology of hate and affirmed the simple but fundamental premise that LGBT people have a right to exist,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). “By some measure, this is a low bar, but progress is incremental and every step must be celebrated in advancing human rights for everyone, everywhere.”

Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the LGBT program at Human Rights Watch, also welcomed the vote, saying that “The right to life, liberty and security of the person is a basic human right. It is shocking to see how often people are killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. With this vote the majority of states acknowledge this serious problem and seek to redress it.”

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