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The Human Right to Freedom of Sexual Orientation
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Human Rights & Sexual Orientation | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Human Rights and Sexual Orientation

What is the Human Right to Freedom of Sexual Orientation?

Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to freedom of sexual orientation. This includes the fundamental human right to freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation or any other status, and other fundamental human rights dependent upon realization of the human right to freedom from discrimination. The human rights related to non-discrimination are explicitly set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other widely adhered to international human rights treaties and Declarations. While these documents do not contain direct references to discrimination based on sexual orientation, they do prohibit discrimination on grounds of sex. In 1993 the UN Commission on Human Rights delared that the prohibition against sex discrimination in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights included discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.

The Human Rights at Issue

The Human Right to Freedom of Sexual Orientation entitles every woman, man, youth and child to fundamental human rights including:

  • The human right to freedom from any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on sexual orientation, gender, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, language, religion, political or other opinion, age, or any other status, which has the purpose or effect of impairing the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms; and the human right to effective protection against such discrimination.

  • The human right of all persons to freedom from discrimination in all areas and levels of education, healthcare, housing, and work.

  • The human right to the highest attainable standard of health.

  • The human right to live in a safe and healthy environment.

  • The human right to freely determine one's political status.

  • The human right to protection from torture, cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.

  • The human right to protection against arbitrary or unlawful interference with one's privacy, family, or home.

  • The human right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

  • The human right to freedom of opinion and expression.

  • The human right to freedom of association.

  • The human right to participate in shaping decisions and policies affecting one's community, on the local, national and international level.

    Human Rights & Sexual Orientation | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

    Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom of Sexual Orientation

    What provisions of human right law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Freedom of Sexual Orientation?

    Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.... Everyone is entitled to ... rights ... without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.... Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.... No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.... All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.... No one shall be subjected to arbitraty interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.... Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.... Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.... to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference.... Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.... Everyone ... is entitled to the realization ... of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.... Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work...."
    --Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 12, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, and 23

    Each State Party ... undertakes to ... ensure ... rights ... without distinction of any kind...; to ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms ... are violated shall have an effective remedy...; ... to ensure the equal right ... to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights.... No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.... Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.... All persons shall be equal before the courts.... No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home ..., nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.... Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.... Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience.... Everyone shall have to right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.... Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association.... Every child shall have, without any discrimination as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, national or social origin, property or birth, the right to such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor.... All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.... [The] law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground...."
    ---- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2, 3, 7, 9, 14, 17, 18, 19, 22, 24, and 26

    "States Parties...undertake to guarantee that ... rights ... will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.... States Parties ... undertake to ensure the equal right ... to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.... Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted.... Education ... shall be made equally accessible to all.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone ... to take part in cultural life...."
    --International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 2, 3, 7, 12, 13, and 14

    "States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means ... a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and ... undertake: to embody the principle of the equality ... in their ... constitutions ... and to ensure ... the practical realization of this principle; To adopt ... legislative and other measures ... prohibiting all discrimination against women; To establish legal protection of the rights of women ... and to ensure ... the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination; To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities ... shall act in conformity with this obligation; To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise; To take all appropriate measures ... to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women....

    "States Parties shall ... ensure... equal rights ... in the field of education ...; the elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education...; States Parties shall ... ensure, on a basis of equality ..., the same rights, in particular ... the right to work ...; the right to the same employment opportunities...; the right to promotion, job security and ... the right to ... vocational training...; the right to equal remuneration ..., equal treatment in ... work of equal value.... States Parties shall ... ensure, on a basis of equality ..., access to health care services.... States Parties shall ... ensure ... the same rights ... to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit...."
    --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 2, 10, 11, 12, and 13

    "States Parties shall respect and ensure ... rights ... without discrimination of any kind irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members...."
    --Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 2


    Human Rights & Sexual Orientation | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

    Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom of Sexual Orientation

    What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Freedom of Sexual Orientation?

    Includes commitments made at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul, and excerpts from the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

    "Respect for human rights ... without distinction of any kind is a fundamental rule of international human rights law. The ... eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex are priority objectives of the international community.... The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the obligation of States to ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all human rights ... without any discrimination.... The persons belonging to minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture ... freely and without ... any form of discrimination...."
    -- Vienna Declaration, Part I, paras. 15, 18, and 19

    "We commit ourselves to promoting social integration by fostering societies that are stable, safe and just and that are based on ... non-discrimination, tolerance, respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, ... and participation of all people.... To this end ... we will ... Formulate or strengthen policies and strategies geared to the elimination of discrimination in all its forms and the achievement of social integration based on equality and respect for human dignity.... "
    -- Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 4

    "Eliminating discrimination and promoting tolerance and mutual respect for ... diversity ... requires ... Enacting and implementing appropriate laws ... to combat racism, racial discrimination, religious intolerance in all its various forms, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination in all walks of life in societies.... Taking specific measures ... to remove long-standing legal and social barriers to employment, education, productive resources and public services .... Governments should promote equality and social justice by: Ensuring that all people are equal before the law; Carrying out a regular review of public policy, including health and education policies, and public spending from a social and gender equality and equity perspective...; Expanding and improving access to basic services with the aim of ensuring universal coverage...; Promoting full access to preventive and curative health care to improve the quality of life, especially by the vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, in particular women and children...."
    --Copenhagen Programme of Action, paras. 73 and 74

    "Actions to be taken: ... Give priority to promoting and protecting the full and equal enjoyment by women and men of all human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origins, property, birth or other status."
    --Beijing Platform for Action, para. 232

    "As human beings are at the centre of our concern for sustainable development, they are the basis for our actions in implementing the Habitat Agenda.... We shall intensify our efforts to eradicate ... discrimination, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all...."
    --Istanbul Declaration, para. 7

    "Equitable human settlements are those in which all people, without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, have equal access to housing, infrastructure, health services, adequate food and water, education.... We ... commit ourselves to ... Eradicating and ensuring legal protection from discrimination in access to shelter and basic services, without distinction of any kind...."
    --Habitat Agenda, paras. 27 and 40

    "No one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons, or person on the grounds of religion or other belief.... All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights ... in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life...."
    --Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Articles 2 and 4


    For more information, please contact PDHRE

    The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
    Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
    526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
    tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
    e-mail: pdhre@igc.org