Editorial: SASOD Challenges Ministry of Health Debate in Accordance with the Yogykarta Principles

Dear Editor

The Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity will be launched on Monday, March 26, 2007 by a group of 29 international human rights experts . They put new pressure on governments: end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, end criminalisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people's lives, make the promise of equality real.

The Principles affirm binding legal standards which are in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.. They were adopted by a group of distinguished experts in international law following a meeting in Yogyakarta , Indonesia . Among the group of experts are a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights - Mary Robinson, UN independent experts , current and former members of human rights treaty bodies, judges , academics and human rights defenders such as Asma Jahangir from Pakistan, Justice Sanji Mmasenono Monageng from Botswana, Justice Lawrence Mute from Kenya, Alice Miller from Columbia University and others.

The Yogyakarta Principles call for action from the UN human rights system, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organisations, and others. They will be launched at events coinciding with the UN Human Rights Council's session in Geneva , where last year 54 states called for the Council to act against egregious violations of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

The Yogyakarta Principles address a broad range of human rights standards. Each principle is accompanied by detailed recommendations to governments on how to end discrimination and abuse. The principles also call for action from the UN's human rights system, national human rights institutions, the media, non-governmental organisations, and others.

In Guyana , the Ministry of Health, the National AIDS Programme Secretariat and the Guyana Teachers’ Union have convened a debate on the topic "Teachers who are homosexual/lesbian should not be allowed to teach." The fact that such a topic is even considered debatable by the Government and by the Teachers’ Union which is entrusted with protecting the rights of those employed to teach is indicative of the ambivalence given towards the rights of gay and lesbian people who are employed by the State. Neither agency would have considered debating the suitability for employment based on any other status.

SASOD calls on the Government of Guyana and the Guyana Teachers Union to implement the Yogyakarta Principles, including Principle 12 - The Right to Work which states: “Everyone has the right to decent and productive work, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment, without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Principle 12 is accompanied by two recommendations to the State. “States shall:
a) Take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to eliminate and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public and private employment, including in relation to vocational training, recruitment, promotion, dismissal, conditions of employment and remuneration;
b) Eliminate any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity to ensure equal employment and advancement opportunities in all areas of public service, including all levels of government service and employment in public functions, including serving in the police and military, and provide appropriate training and awareness-raising programmes to counter discriminatory attitudes.”

We also call on the Guyana Teachers Union to follow specifically the Additional Recommendation of the Yogyakarta Princples listed as (m) which urges that professional organisations, including those in the educational sectors, “review their practices and guidelines to ensure that they vigorously promote the implementation of these Principles.”

The Yogyakarta Principles were developed in conjunction by the International Commission of Jurists and the International Service for Human Rights. Guyanese legal luminary, Sir Shridath Ramphal, is an honorary member of the International Commission of Jurists. The full text of the "Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" is available at http://yogyakartaprinciples.org/
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