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Online launch of the report on practices of “conversion therapy” by the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

Statement by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

Ilze Brands Kehris

9 July 2020

Good morning colleagues and participants,

Good morning Victor,

Thank you for your important report which brings the much needed focus on practices of so-called "conversion therapy".

Your report shocks us by bringing evidence that such practices are carried out in regions all over of the world by a wide range of stakeholders, and with the active involvement of close family and community members. The particular vulnerability of children to pressure from their parents or other figures in a position of authority to undergo "conversion therapy" practices, is extremely worrisome, especially when we know the impact that such treatment can have on their development, health, well-being and fundamental rights.

The wide range of forms of "conversion therapy", from horribly violent practices to more subtle verbal psychotherapies, are all attacks on a person's identity and integrity and your findings show how brutal these are.  You have put forth evidence of the long-lasting pain and suffering and the impact such practices has had on individuals whose entire lives and ability to participate fully in society have often been affected.

Ultimately, this is a question of Dignity. Let each of us take one minute to imagine that whatever our own sexual orientation or gender identity is, we would be pressured by family and society to believe that it is "deviant", "sinful" or pathological and we would be subjected to any of these egregious practices that you have named, including electric shock therapies and medication to "heal" us, rituals and exorcism to "drive out the evil", detention, beatings, rapes, and forced pregnancy to "correct" what is considered by others as our own deviant behaviour.  I hope we all are shaken by this thought, even if it is not possible to imagine the pain and profound damage of such exposure over a long period of time.

As your report also shows, these practices should be challenged by and with the binding norms and standards of human rights law.  At a minimum, key aspects involve equality and non-discrimination, the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, the right to autonomy and physical and psychological integrity, the right to freedom of expression, including the right to objective and reliable information also on sexual and reproductive rights and, importantly, the range of rights of the child as well as several other rights.  We also know that international law – indeed rule of law basic tenets – also require that there be avenues for effective remedy and full reparations where rights have been violated.

The interpretation of these norms continues to evolve through the Treaty Bodies of the respective Covenants and Conventions, and with the increased attention to the equal rights and non-discrimination of LGBTI persons, "conversion therapy" has also made inroads into jurisprudence.

But to be effectively applied, these norms have to be translated into national legislation.  The Independent Expert has identified a recent trend towards banning practices of "conversion therapy", and I am encouraged by recent legal developments to put an end to these practices and prosecute perpetrators. It is a matter of concern, however, that only three, out of at least 68 States where evidence of "conversion therapy" practices have been found, have national bans and that three have bans at local levels.

I hope that the report can serve as a point of departure for States and the UN family and inspire our global agenda on eradicating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This agenda is rooted in the principles of freedoms and equality.

Indeed, LGBTI persons have the right to live free and equal, without fear. The concept of freedom encompasses the right to question and explore one's own identity, and to be protected from interference in one's personal integrity, choices and autonomy. Equality, on the other hand, requires States to acknowledge that sexual and gender diversity exist, to respect and embrace differences, and to ensure that LGBTI people are entitled to equal protection of rights.

We know that human rights violations against LGBTI individuals are often rooted in deeply entrenched stigma and misconceptions that fuel prejudice and hate and which tend to legitimize and sometimes institutionalize violence and discrimination. To effectively tackle such prejudice, we need to address the root causes. Through the Free & Equal campaign, our Office is contributing to opening people's hearts and minds across the world. It is one of the biggest UN public information initiatives ever undertaken. It has reached hundreds of millions of people. We need more initiatives such as this to strengthen awareness globally and locally.   

There are strong connections between some of the Independent Expert's findings and the 2030 Agenda. Notably, the principle of equality is at the core of the SDGs. The development agenda cannot, however, be pursued without leaving anyone behind, including LGBTI persons who see their existence and identity challenged, demonized, and labelled as abnormal. The Independent Expert findings resonate with States' commitment under SDG 3 to "ensure a healthy life and promote wellbeing for all at all ages".

But given the long-term damages of "conversion therapy" practices on the lives of LGBTI people, the responsibility of States goes well beyond. The effects of such practices push LGBTI persons to the margin of societies, to heightened risk of poverty, unemployment, school drop-out, and homelessness. In short, it affects their ability to meaningfully contribute to societies and the ability of States to achieve their commitments under the SDGs.

For all these reasons, I – and the Office as a whole – strongly echo the Independent Expert's call on States to ban "conversion therapy" practices. To live up to their pledge of leaving no one behind, States have to break the historical stigma, discrimination and exclusion that LGBTI persons face and ensure the inclusion and meaningful participation of LGBTI people in the Agenda 2030.  

In order to be efficient and effective, measures must be taken within a human rights-based approach through a framework of the principles of equality and non-discrimination, participation, indivisibility, empowerment and accountability. Moving forward, the Secretary-General's Call to Action is a helpful framework for us all in this regard to place equal rights of all at the centre of our advocacy, all of our policies and all of our actions, with a clear focus on real change for people on the ground. 

In this spirit, our Office is committed to working with States, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations, and other stakeholders to protect people from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In this context, we stand ready to support efforts aimed at banning practices of "conversion therapy" and will continue to promote greater respect for the human rights of LGBTI people everywhere, including through the Free and Equal campaign.

Thank you.