Hirschfeld-Eddy-Stiftung Projekte Veranstaltungen Verband

LGBTI advocacy at the UN Human Rights Council

Online talk with Julia Ehrt from ILGA World and Helmut Metzner from the LSVD on 2 June 2020

In the first event of the series “Leave no one behind! Development cooperation and LGBTI perspectives”, Julia Ehrt, director of programs at ILGA World (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), gave an overview of the structure and tasks of the Human Rights Council and of ILGA’s activities.


The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

The Human Rights Council is the main human rights body at the United Nations. Its membership rotates, with 47 UN member states serving three-year terms. As of 1 January 2020 Germany is again a member, which also offers more opportunities for German civil society to have an influence.

The council meets for three sessions a year. Of special significance is its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, which assesses the human rights situation of all states every four to five years. The UPR process involves civil society, for example in the form of NGO shadow reports submitted in parallel to the official reports by member states. ILGA supports civil society organizations in drawing up and submitting these shadow reports. It can be done by a single NGO or by multiple NGOs working in concert. ILGA also invites activists to Geneva to ensure that first-hand reports can be heard about the situation of LGBTI people in the countries under review.

ILGA World in Geneva

ILGA World’s tasks in Geneva include coordinating LGBTI civil society organizations and doing direct advocacy. One example Ehrt mentioned is to ensure renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

ILGA makes statements and also produces its own reports, with topics including the effects of Covid-19 on LGBTI communities, and the status of curbing conversion therapy in different countries.

ILGA also attends sessions of the ten Treaty Bodies that monitor the ten human rights agreements, and produces country reports. Here, too, ILGA involves activists from different countries and supports them in drawing up shadow reports.

Screenshot: Treaty Bodies

The most controversial human rights topics under discussion right now have to do with LGBTI concerns and with sexual and reproductive rights. Ongoing lobby work by ILGA is essential to ensure that these concerns are not ignored or dismissed. Contacts with LGBTI-friendly elected officials and organizations are established and cultivated.

ILGA takes part in many local events, organizes its own HRC side events, and brings activists together with elected officials for direct talks.

ILGA and the LGBTI community

The online event also discussed the opportunities afforded by ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) consultative status. It gives NGOs access to sessions of the Human Rights Council where they can make statements. The LSVD (Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany) uses this status, and seeks closer collaboration with ILGA here.

Ehrt explained that Germany’s review by the Committee on the Rights of the Child with respect to violations of human rights is coming up.

Screenshot: Vortrag

A shadow report will be important for this UPR on Germany too. ILGA is encouraging multiple human rights organizations to jointly produce a shadow report.

Do no harm! Human rights and development cooperation

The “Do no harm” principle always needs to be followed. It is important for NGOs from donor countries to network with organizations from the Global South. Major decisions need to be prepared and made locally, in the countries where the projects are carried out.

International human rights issues are debated at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are discussed at the UN General Assembly in New York. These two mechanisms complement each other and should be viewed as a unit.

In Germany, human rights issues should be linked more closely with development cooperation, and all actors involved should take account of both areas.

The Yogyakarta Alliance is a civil society group that has been promoting this approach for several years, namely to include LGBTI human rights in Germany’s development cooperation and foreign policy as well as in international work by its civil society organizations. Founded in 2012, the alliance has consistently called for an LGBTI inclusion plan for foreign relations and has also produced a list of corresponding requirements.


Screenshot Dreieransicht

The event showed the role that civil society plays in anchoring human rights more strongly in development cooperation. As an international umbrella organization, ILGA encourages the German LGBTI community to get involved and take action, for example by producing shadow reports and attending sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. In addition, the federal government and the organizations it funds need frequent reminders to strengthen the human rights of LGBTI and other vulnerable groups, all the more so during crises. Humanitarian aid cannot be sustainable if human rights are not upheld. LGBTI concerns are not peripheral in this respect. Instead they are an indicator of the state of human rights in the individual countries.

More information:

  • Four further events in the series “Leave no one behind! Development cooperation and LGBTI perspectives” will discuss additional aspects of this topic, including German NGOs and their work, postcolonial approaches and critical issues, and an LGBTI development cooperation project.

with funding from the BMZ


The LSVD bears sole responsibility for the content. The positions described do not necessarily reflect the views of Engagement Global or the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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