At the close of a divisive Quebec City conference, 162 countries adopted a new declaration that underlines their dedication to fighting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
But the group appears to have nixed a more clearly worded endorsement of gay rights from its declaration.
The Quebec Declaration, named for the host city of the conference that adopted it, is a series of 38 commitments approved by the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (IPU). The IPU is a collection of political representatives that works to establish guidelines to promote democracy and human rights amongst its member states.
The conference was the scene of a heated exchange between Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and the speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Rebecca Kadaga.
In a four-minute speech to the congress, Kadaga told the other parliamentarians that “if homosexuality is a value for the people of Canada, we have no problem with that — it’s for them and their country. But they should not seek to force the people of Uganda to embrace homosexuality, because we are not a colony of Canada. Their problems are not our problems.”
It was a vow to fight a hard-line approach taken by Baird.
“It is cases like [murdered Ugandan gay activist David Kato’s] that drive me to raise this issue, often to the discomfort of the people sitting across the table, as I did at recent meetings in Australia and New York,” Baird told the plenary. “I firmly believe it is the role of the state to protect its people regardless of sex, sexuality or faith.”
Baird seemed to get his way, to an extent.
The text of the draft declaration initially did not include a mention of protection for sexual minorities. It repeatedly declared the members’ mission to fight “discrimination of any kind, including that based on race, colour, language, religion, sex,” but left out anything about queer people.
A later draft encouraged member states to foster tolerance, understanding and diversity for sexual minorities.
When the draft came before the parliamentarians in committee, however, France and Switzerland inserted the phrase “sexual orientation” into the document six times, ensuring that it was tacked onto the end of “culture, race, colour, language, ethnicity, religion and sex.”
Neither Canada nor Uganda sat on that committee.
It does not appear, however, in the text of the declaration provided to Xtra by the IPU, that any of the French or Swiss amendments were adopted. The final version mentions “sexual orientation” only once; it was the same reference inserted in the second draft.
“All individuals must be allowed the full enjoyment of their equal and inalienable rights,” the sole reference reads. Any limitations on those rights, it says, “should not lead to any discrimination whatsoever based on culture, race, colour, language, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation or political affiliation.”
If some of the more liberal positions on protecting sexual minorities were deleted from the bill by the committee, it would come as no surprise. Just three gay-friendly countries sat on the committee: Switzerland, France and Argentina. Another three hold more conservative positions on gay rights: India, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates.
India, in one amendment, deleted the phrase “and sexual orientation” from one sub-paragraph, in the context of adopting measures to push diversity and accommodation of different social groups.
While it appears that a commitment to protecting the rights of LGBT people was deliberately left out, the document does repeatedly vow to end discrimination and persecution of any kind, against all people.
But that doesn’t jive with the Canadian government’s repeated efforts to codify queer rights as on par with the rights of ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural minorities.
The declaration is more an expression of intent than a formal treaty, and it carries no means of enforcement.