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The Yogyakarta Principles
Advancing Human Rights for Lesbians and Bisexual Women
For Human Rights Instruments to be effective we need to ensure their use, promotion and implementation.
In this the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, it is timely – indeed long overdue – that we have a document, The Yogyakarta Principles, based on the ‘international covenant template’, which sets out those principles fundamental to ensuring protection of Human Rights in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.

We are all familiar with e.g. the ICCPR – International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICESCR – International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, CEDAW – Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, UNCRC – United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and ‘State specific’ Bills of Rights as well as those international human rights instruments which have been drawn up in response to identified need e.g. CAT - Convention Against Torture, those protecting national minorities etc. It is ‘international human rights instruments’ such as these which we have to continue to exercise to protect against violations. It is vital however, that new and emerging ‘tools’ are ratified and implemented such as the ‘Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’.

We need to use these ‘tools’ to address the inadequacies of Domestic / State protections or indeed lack of them. It was recognition of these inadequacies which led to the development of this ‘set of international legal principles on the application of international law to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity (designed to) bring greater clarity and coherence to States’ human rights obligations.’

Until the ‘Yogyakarta Principles’ were drawn up, human rights in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity were fragmented, inconsistent and in many cases, non-existant. It was the collation of these which has proved / will prove of enormous benefit in advancing such human rights.

Human Rights Protections for Lesbians and Bisexual Women
Bearing in mind that international human rights instruments do not include ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity’ explicitly, it is vital that we begin to re-examine these and look at ways of promoting their inclusion. CEDAW e.g. does not include ‘Lesbians and Bisexual Women’. It is, I believe, crucial that we continue to highlight this ‘glaring omission’ which only serves to perpetuate the ‘violence of enforced invisibility’ experienced by us in every aspect of our lives. To this end Lesbian Line Northern. Ireland made a submission to the CEDAW Committee when the UK Government was appearing before it earlier this year, as required, in relation to its 6th periodic report. This highlighted those issues faced by Lesbians and Bisexual Women here and appealed for our ‘inclusion’ in what is sometimes referred to as ‘the Bill of Rights for Women’. It is action such as this that we all need to continue.

Yogyakarta Principles: Promotion Human Rights in relation to SO and GI
The publication of the ‘Yogakarta Principles’ was timely as we were/are in the process of drafting a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. We used them to provide an international context, just as we were ‘referring’ to other international covenants etc. As ‘co-representative’ (to ensure gender balance in CoSO we have 2 Co-Chairs who were the ‘sectoral representatives on the Bill of Rights Forum), I used the Yogyakarta Principles to advance human rights for Lesbians and Bisexual Women here in Northern Ireland.

It was in introducing the ‘Principles’ and disseminating to all participants – including political parties, civic society representatives and indeed a wider ‘audience’ which significantly helped and supported us in our roles as representatives of the LGBT Sector here to ‘educate’, raise awareness and embed the necessity to include / address issues throughout the process – in all areas e.g. civil and political, economic and social rights – particularly through the Working Groups - and in the final draft document, which is now with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and is due to be ‘handed over’ to the Secretary of State on 10th December 2008.

The ‘Principles’ were also disseminated during our ‘Outreach’ Bill of Rights events which we carried out to raise awareness among and gain input from the LGBT Community in N. Ireland. We also ensured the NI Human Rights Commission, Equality Commission NI, Government Departments, Trade Unions and NGOs also received copies. It is in keeping our issues ‘on the agenda’ of Government, their departments, NGOs, such as these which will impact on a broader scale and help ‘change mindsets’ to a recognition of the need to Promote Respect, Inclusion, Dignity and Equality for All - PRIDE.

While each State will have its own ‘specific context’ where Lesbians and Bisexual Women ‘conduct their lives’ and in which relevant legislation is drawn up / implemented. I believe it is in using the Yogyakarta Principles to bring an international human rights dimension to Domestic / State legislation which can ‘inform’, ‘reinforce’ and provide the ‘global context’ where the necessary human rights protections for Lesbians and Bisexual Women are enshrined.

I hope this example of how Lesbians and Bisexual Women can use these principles to advance our human rights helps others to do likewise - in their own contexts - and claim our Rights.

Mairéad McCafferty
Lesbian Line
Northern Ireland

1 Bill of Rights Forum Website: http://www.billofrightsforum.org/

2 I and my other Co-Chair from CoSO – Coalition on Sexual Orientation – sat on the Bill of Rights Forum (Dec’ 06 – March ’08) as well as 2 other CoSO representatives who participated (like us) in the Working Groups which were integral to the process.