2 min

A matter of principles

A month after they were unveiled, the Yogyakarta Principles have landed in Canada. No, the Yogyakarta Principles aren’t part of a new and trendy healthy living regime, but a list of 29 principles laid out by 29 human rights experts with the goal of improving the lives of queers throughout the world.

Compiled in Yogyakarta, Indonesia after an international seminar last November, the principles were officially launched in a presentation to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council on Mar 26.

“Human rights are for everyone, without reservation,” stated Brazil’s Sonia Onufer Corrêa, who cochaired the group of experts that established the principles, in a press release announcing the launch of the document. “Yet women, men and persons whose sexuality does not conform with dominant norms face rape, torture, murder, violence and abuse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These principles affirm that human rights admit no exceptions.”

Last week NDP MP Bill Siksay brought the principles to the attention of the House Of Commons, tabling a motion that calls on the Canadian government to endorse the principles, fully implement them within Canada and work on getting them accepted worldwide.

“This initiative merits Canada’s full and active support,” stated Siksay in his own press release. “The Yogyakarta Principles are a blueprint for progress on human rights around the world, and are a significant step toward full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual and intersex people everywhere.”

To a Canadian, many of the principles are almost simplistic — rights that queer Canadians already take for granted.

Take for example, principle four: “Everyone has the right to life,” states the document, which is available on-line at “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of life, including by reference to considerations of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The death penalty shall not be imposed on any person on the basis of consensual sexual activity among persons who are over the age of consent or on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

It’s frightening that this needs saying, let alone that it’s taken the combined authority of 29 judges, professors, activists and policymakers from 25 different countries before it’s given any attention.

But who is paying attention? It’s unclear what the UN Human Rights Council will do with the principles. It’s also unclear if any country but Canada will ever see a motion calling for the principles to be adopted or if the principles will even be endorsed in Canada.

This straightforward roadmap to international queer and trans human rights may never amount to more than a whole lot of well-meaning words that never make it off the page. But Siksay remains optimistic about what the principles say about the state of the international queer movement.

“It signifies a move by the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans] community throughout the world to look beyond their own borders at how we can support our brothers and sisters around the world,” says Siksay from Vancouver. “I think that’s a very important development in terms of the GLBT movement around the world.”