Safeguarding the Rights of Sexual Minorities: The Incremental and Legal Approaches to Enforcing International Human Rights Obligations

By Mittelstaedt, Emma | Chicago Journal of International Law, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Safeguarding the Rights of Sexual Minorities: The Incremental and Legal Approaches to Enforcing International Human Rights Obligations


Mittelstaedt, Emma, Chicago Journal of International Law


I. INTRODUCTION

The stark contrast between the aspirational, lofty language of international human rights treaties and the domestic laws of their signatories-not to mention official statements made by those signatory nations' leaders-is truly astounding. To note just one example of this disparity, Zimbabwe signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ("ICCPR"), pledging that its own "law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination."1 But in 2006, Zimbabwe passed legislation that makes it a crime for two people of the same sex to kiss, hug, or hold hands2-and Zimbabwe's current leader, President Robert Mugabe, has publicly stated that gays are "worse than dogs and pigs"3 and has urged members of his party to tie up homosexuals and bring them to the police to be arrested.4

Even in nations where both international treaties and domestic laws protect the rights of sexual minorities,5 violent hate crimes and other forms of discrimination still occur with shocking regularity. South Africa provides a particularly graphic example; it was the first African nation to adopt a constitution providing for, among other things, sexual minority rights6 and the first African nation to legalize same-sex marriage.7 Despite these measures-or perhaps, as this Comment will suggest, as a result of these measures-violent attacks against openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ("LGBT") South Africans continue, with "corrective rape" occurring with some frequency.8 Certainly, antigay laws and state-supported discrimination can, and do, increase violence toward gays by legitimizing homophobia and by inciting the public, which previously might not have paid much attention to the LGBT community.9 Laws that protect sexual minorities are clearly a necessary condition-but not necessarily a sufficient one. The presence of domestic and international laws protecting gay rights is not enough to change a population's attitudes and actions toward the LGBT community.10

The international human rights community, though, generally sees changing laws as the necessary first step toward changing attitudes. Where treatment of, and attitudes toward, sexual minorities violate international human rights obligations, international human rights organizations have moved aggressively to advocate for change in domestic laws, with an eye to ultimately transforming attitudes and beliefs toward the LGBT community.11 Given the atrocities that have occurred in recent years,12 it would be unreasonable to expect that human rights organizations would refrain from taking immediate action. But why do international human rights organizations focus their efforts on changing laws, rather than changing attitudes, which could in turn lead to changing laws?

First, this "changing laws" approach has, on the surface, wrought many successes. Over the past two decades, international recognition of LGBT rights has improved dramatically under consistent pressure from human rights activists. The United Nations has, beginning with the ICCPR and the UN Human Rights Committee's ("UNHRC") decision in Toonen v Australia,13 taken a number of affirmative steps to advance the rights of sexual minorities. In the wake of those UN landmarks, LGBT rights organizations have generally agreed that the best way to advance their cause in domestic contexts is to pressure nations to adopt legislation or to alter their constitutions in favor of compliance with international treaties that promote privacy and equality.14

Second, were it equally difficult to change laws and attitudes, there is a strong argument that changing laws would be preferable. Laws that criminalize handholding or prevent human rights groups from organizing15 are detrimental not only to the LGBT movement, but also directly threaten individual privacy and autonomy norms. Most human rights organizations do not address this disparity, possibly due to the dearth of empirical data on the topic. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Safeguarding the Rights of Sexual Minorities: The Incremental and Legal Approaches to Enforcing International Human Rights Obligations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.