At UNHRC, India Abstains on LGBTQ Rights-Linked Resolution for Third Consecutive Time

New Delhi: Four years after the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality, India on Thursday, July 7, abstained on the resolution that renewed the mandate for an independent expert to monitor the protection of LGBTQ rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The resolution was adopted with 23 countries in favour, 17 against and seven abstentions. It was one of the most keenly-fought resolutions in recent times at the UNHRC, with 13 amendments brought by the bloc of Islamic countries to modify the text.

Sponsored by Latin American countries, the resolution renewed the mandate for the Special Rapporteur (SR) for protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) for the next three years. 

The ‘yes’ camp was filled mainly with European and South American nations, while the other side was made up primarily of African and Muslim-majority countries. Besides India, the other abstentions were from Armenia, Benin, Kazakhstan, Namibia and Uzbekistan.

India had abstained when the post was first created through a resolution in 2016. The MEA spokesperson explained in July 2016 that India’s voting was primarily dictated by the fact that decriminalising homosexuality was then a sub-judice matter.

In September 2018, the Supreme Court published the landmark judgment that decriminalised all consensual sex among adults. It effectively brought down the curtains on the usage of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, that had criminalised homosexual relations in India for more than a century.

When the renewal of the mandate for SR-SOGI came up in 2019, India abstained again. There was no official explanation of its vote (EoV).

Three years later, India has made no change in its position. Again, there was no statement made by the Indian side to explain its vote.

Sources have told The Wire that the key reason continues to be the lack of legislation by the Indian government, which would indicate a particular pro-active stance. While no specific law has been approved in the post-377 scenario, sources claimed that the government had taken several steps to improve the legal rights of transgender people. 

As reported by The Wire on the 2019 vote, this was the same argument extended by officials to explain the abstention.

Another common pattern across the three resolutions has been the multiple amendments proposed by Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) member states, with India voting in favour of some of them.

In 2016, India voted in favour of at least six of the eleven OIC-backed amendments. During the 2019 vote, India pushed the ‘yes’ button on four of the ten amendments.

This time, on behalf of OIC, Pakistan tabled 13 amendments, out of which only one was adopted. India voted in favour of three of them and abstained on the rest.

The sole OIC amendment that was approved added additional language that affirmed “the sovereign right of each country to develop its national laws, in accordance with its international human rights obligations”. India had voted in favour of this amendment.

While most of the amendments were identical to previous years, Pakistan also tabled a couple related to negating same-sex marriage and reaffirming the right to marry for adults. India abstained on both.

This article was first published on The Wire.