John Fisher - AsiaPacific Outgames

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[00:00:00] This recording was made up a second the Asia Pacific out games human rights conference held in Wellington New Zealand in March 2011 [00:00:08] cura no Robin Sharma Tina Koto in a manner in a row in Miami Heat cinema Chanukah, Koto, Koto, Koto, Koto, cat, or, well, it's a great privilege and honor for me to be here and to be part of this closing session. And I just want to say, however, that Barry is an incredibly difficult act to follow as a chair, I've seldom heard anyone that was so busy and focused, and had such edge and such style and such energy [00:00:48] as he has, and I. [00:00:58] And this conference is clearly an enormous reflection of all of those things, as well as all of the many people who have worked to support it and make it happen. And I have to say that I've been getting, you know, the odd ticks from people because I had to return to new to Auckland on on Wednesday. And really, I don't upsell them felt such energy and enthusiasm from a conference, certainly not in the last decade. And so I think out of this will come the next sort of level of transformation in different ways in all of our societies. And, and I know that that energy that you have generated coming together, and the things that you've learned from each other, will actually benefit those well beyond this room, and this place. So it's, it's really fantastic, just to be a small part of it. And what we we've got for this final plenary session is a keynote speech from john Fisher, and I'll introduce him in a minute. And then we've got commentary from three people, and I'll introduce them when we get to them. And then the rest of the session is open to us so that we can actually have some engagement and comment in the discussion. So I have been told john, that I will be waving at him quite, you know, obviously, after 20 minutes, a noisy and and got 25 after that, so that there'll be time for others to contribute from the floor. Because one of the things that is extraordinary about this conference is the rich diversity. That's represented here in so many different ways. And I know people have also said to me, the one frustration of the conference has been that they could only go to one session at a time. And they're always sessions and the other streams that they'd love to have equally been at it. So this is a bit of an opportunity to share just some of the the treasures from right across the conference before we finally close with our PowerPoint wacky at 330. So I won't say any more, but just to briefly introduce john Fisher, who is co director of ASC International, project driven organization, which advances lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights internationally. Originally, john has from New Zealand, and we've just sort of started to reclaim him. Those of us who've just discovered him recently, he certainly adds to our man internationally, I have to say, he has a BA in LLB honors, spent two years as the judges Clark and moved to Canada in 1991, where he completed an LLM thesis on lesbian and gay rights and international law. at Queen's University in 1992. He was the founding executive director of Eagle, Canada, Canada's national LGBT equality organization, in a position which he held from 1994 to 2002. He participate in the United Nations World Conference on human rights in Vienna in 1993, where he became the first openly gay person to address the UN World Conference. And actually, you know, as a New Zealand, again, claiming you as a New Zealander, rather than a Canadian at that point, I think that there's something special about that. And similarly, just about four years ago, during the negotiations for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and New Zealand, leader of people first, which is the organization that represents people with intellectual disability, was the first person with an intellectual disability to speak at the United Nations in New York. And I think these are all really precious symbols of a more inclusive, inclusive, and participatory process at the international level, and which, you know, which we need to treasure but also to build on, because I think there's often a lot of criticism the United Nations, as if it's some esoteric body out the Actually, it's made up of all our states. And what actually happens here depends on what our governments decide should happen there. But it's increasingly [00:05:33] ordinary people from around the world, civil society, members of civil society, and activists are able to have a voice and we need to build on those, as john, you know, did in 1993. In 2004, he relocated to Geneva as the asca representative to better facilitate NGO engagement with United Nations Human Rights mechanisms. And I think those of you who have been following the campaign on the joint statement, will have a tiny taste of just how effective he is in organizing at that level. He's been involved in both the institutional building and the substantive work of the Human Rights Council since its inception. And and I can certainly affirm the extent to which he's developed extraordinarily positive relationships with states, with NGOs, with the special procedures, treaty party members, with the UN personnel and others and, and works actively to connect human rights defenders around the world. So on that, john, welcome, it's great to have you here. [00:06:50] It's yours. [00:07:02] Kira, my taco, me Nui Anna kiya Cotto, it's good to be home. One of the hardest decisions of my life was leaving New Zealand to work internationally. But here today at this conference, I've never felt more at home and more amongst the the brothers and sisters of my country and end of the Asia Pacific region. And I trust that you all feel as invigorated as I do, to feel part of this great panel, and to be able to participate in this amazing event. So kudos to the organizers. [00:07:40] There have been many highlights of this conference. But before going any further, when I wants to mention is the the trans and intersex hooey that took place on Tuesday. Congratulations to jack for making it happen. And to all of the people who participated. [00:08:00] Myself felt so immensely privileged to be able to feel so welcome in that space. And honestly, for me, it was one of the most thought provoking and enriching experiences of my life. And that's something that I will take away from this conference and and keep with me for forever. At times like this, it's natural to reflect a little bit on how far we've come and some of the challenges that still lie ahead. And because I I believe very strongly that the personal is political. There are many times in this room over the last few days when I've been taken back to the times when I was growing up in New Zealand when homosexuality was still a criminal offense. And like many of you I grew up during during that period, very much feeling that as a teenager, I was the only one struggling to come to terms with my sexuality. At a time when all of the media portrayals were were negative. And even worse, I believed the social messages that homosexuals were sick, disgusting and wrong. And I clearly remember the other day when homosexual Law Reform went through in New Zealand, I was still in the closet, I hadn't told another living soul that I was gay. I was walking to, to university, and on every corner and the and the stores in the in the newspaper stands. The main headline was homosexuality decriminalized. There was nobody else I could talk to about this. But I read those those banner headlines. And for just a moment, the sun it happened came through the clouds. And it felt to me as a weight had been lifted from my shoulders from my shoulders. And for the first time in my life, I could stand on the soil of the country that I love so much, and feel that I belonged. And I knew then that there was nothing wrong with me nothing that needed to be changed what was wrong and needed to be changed was the attitudes of society that could have made me feel the way that I did. much has changed since then. And, and much like our own personal struggles, work to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender intersex rights, the United Nations is a long and slow and challenging process. Keita reminded us yesterday of the of the Gandhi quote, first, they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you. And then you win. And certainly at the international level, and in our countries around the world, we've long been ignored, we've long felt the stigma of invisibility and silence. We've sustained the ridicule of being laughed at, we certainly felt the backlash of being fought against, but gradually, bit by bit, I believe that change is coming and that we are winning. Roslyn mentioned the World Conference on human rights in Vienna in 1993, which I spoke at. And I didn't actually realize at the time that I was the first time that LGBT person or gay man hadn't and then in my case, addressed a UN World Conference. I took the floor and there had been many NGO speakers before me. So I felt I was just one about a long line. And as always happens when NGOs take the floor and states lose interest. The noise level in the room was rising and rising. And I began reading my prepared speech, and suddenly became aware that there was dead silence that had descended across the room. And suddenly people began gathering in front of me there were cameras going off. And at the end of it, a little crowd had had gathered. But what stood out for me was a delegate to come up to me, I could tell from his badge that he was from one of the the government delegations that I couldn't see which, and he came up to me shook my hand. And he had tears in his eyes and said, Thank you. That's the first time I've heard those words pronounced in the UN space. And then he kind of nervously looked over his shoulder and disappeared into the ground. And it reminded me, particularly as we see how far how far we have come these days, that there was a time when when couldn't say the words lesbian, or transgender in the UN space, and to do so provoked an immediate and vigorous backlash. We still face challenges to today at the international level. Many of you will be aware that in 2000, three, Brazil presented a resolution on sexual orientation and human rights. At that point, it did not include gender identity, although some subsequent initiatives have. But when it presented the resolution, there was such a backlash that it was deferred for a year, and then for another year, and eventually quietly withdrawn from the Human Rights Council agenda. without even being discussed, let alone put to a vote. Just last year, states, the United Nations General Assembly gathered together to vote sexual orientation out of a reference or a reference to sexual relations sorry, out of a resolution on extrajudicial executions, because some states couldn't even tolerate the idea that we should acknowledge that killings against members of our communities are wrong. Thankfully, that decision was subsequently reversed. Although again, gender identity was not included in the resolution, signaling how far we still have to go to raise awareness and increase respect for the rights of those who are transgender, transsexual and intersex. [00:13:01] One of the themes of this conference has been the the Georgia Carter principles and I think the the cover of the guide is there on the screen and you have received the principles in in your conference kits. These are a set of principles on the application of international human rights law, in relation to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. They were developed to fulfill a gap in international human rights protection, where many states refused to recognize international human rights law as even applying to those of us who lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or or intersex. Of course, the predictions are there. They're in all of the International instruments. But it was necessary and felt necessary by the participating experts to meet together together and to put in one document these standards, which affirm that everybody has the right to life that no one should be subjected to torture, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity, that everyone has a right to freedom of expression, to non discrimination and access to healthcare and housing and education, to bodily integrity and to affirm for ourselves our own identities without state interference. Some people have described the Georgia principles as groundbreaking, but I actually disagree. They break no new ground, they are simply an affirmation of the fundamental principle that runs throughout international human rights law. And it's reflected in the first Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights. And that all human beings includes every one of us that we are the equal of every other human being on this planet, that we're all connected, and we're all entitled to enjoy the same freedom, dignity and rights. It's a principle so obvious that it almost shouldn't need stating, but sadly, too often it does. As the presence of human rights violations around the world remind us so tragically on on such a regular basis, whether it's a being who was raped in an attempt to cure her of a of a sexual orientation, whether it's a transgender person who was beaten or killed on the streets, with little state interest or police response, whether it's a gay teenager who takes his own life, because he cannot stand any longer the abuse that he faces from his peers, the Georgia Carter principles continue to have resonance precisely because they remind us that we are all entitled to enjoy these basic human rights protections. And more importantly, they provide us with a tool to remind our governments that they have a solemn responsibility as members of the international community to ensure that our rights are respected, just as those of any other citizen of any other human being. At the same time, we know that as our voices will not be silenced. And it's also fitting on a conference like this and in our lives as we as we move forward to reflect on the progress that we have seen. I mentioned that there was a time when words like lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, we're not even named in un fora. But much of that has changed. And if I can find, or if I can make this thing work. This isn't exempt from an address that the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, made on world Human Rights Day, December the 10th. Last year, and I'm talking on world Human Rights Day, which is the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Benjamin specifically spoke at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, at an event organized to address issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. And in his speech, he said, it is not called the partial Declaration of Human Rights. It is not the sometimes Declaration of Human Rights. It is the Universal Declaration, guaranteeing all human beings, the basic human rights without exception, when our fellow humans are persecuted, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we must speak out human rights, human rights everywhere for everyone. [00:17:04] And to me, it's an amazingly powerful reminder when we see how we've moved from the days when the the ages couldn't be named to one where the Secretary General of the United Nations the highest figure in the UN hierarchy himself, is taking the floor on his own initiative and calling for all states to end human rights violations based on sexual orientation, and gender identity. We submit many great signs of progress in regions and countries around the world as well. One of the powerful new tools that United Nations has adopted for improving the human rights situation in states around the world is the Universal Periodic Review. It's called Universal because every single UN member state, large and small, must come before the United Nations Human Rights Council on a repeating four year basis and present their human rights situation, receive recommendations from any other state around the world as to how to improve the human rights situation and give a response and make commitments as to what they will do to address those concerns. We've seen tremendous take up throughout the Universal Periodic Review by LGBT activists in countries and regions around the world to hold their governments accountable and to make recommendations to decriminalize same sex conduct to ensure that trans people have access to government documentation that accords with their self defined gender identity, to ensure that differentiation and gender identity are included as grounds and non Discrimination Act to ensure that states undertake obligations to train police officers to better respond to hate crimes against members of our communities. The array of issues is only as as limited as the issues that we as our communities choose to put before the United Nations. Of course, states can give whatever responses they were sometimes they are favorable, sometimes they are not, but at least they must respond to all recommendations and answer to the concerns and to the demands of our communities. A very positive example recently was now to a small island state, as you know, which presented before the the Human Rights Council just about a month ago, and in their own state presentation, the Minister of Justice from now who said, Yes, we still have colonial laws prohibiting consensual same sex conduct. These laws are anachronistic, and we pledge to repeal them. And that's to me is a tremendous example of how we can use the international tools to make sure that that these laws are changed, and how governments across the region are themselves gradually beginning to realize that their own laws are outdated, and that they needed to change. We've spoken a number of times at the conference about the joint statement on ending violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This will be presented at the Human Rights Council next Tuesday, if it's remain in full swing, although we gave today I think as a as a deadline for governments to respond, if you still are in touch with your governments, we won't turn anybody away if they still come forward on a Monday and beg to be added to the list. I'm pleased to advise that as of now, we now have more than 80 states who have supported and in particular, and [00:20:09] in particular, in the last [00:20:12] 24 hours, we've seen support from Guatemala, Ecuador and stimulus to East Timor. As as we've also heard, however, there is concern about it with continual counter statement and is even concerned that states hostile to the joint statement may try and present a negative resolution, which has even greater impact and restricting the the rights and the ability of the International mechanisms to to address issues of concern to members of our communities. So of course, the work will continue throughout next week, both to promote the positive aspects, but also to respond to the challenges that that predictively we continue to face. I mentioned yesterday that one of the states that has supported the joint statements just within the last 24 to 48 hours is is the government of Rwanda. And this also I think, is a a significant example of how times are changing even within spaces that are that are difficult. And I wanted to read you just a short excerpt from a speech made by the ambassador of Rwanda and the General Assembly in in December last year, when the amendments to include sexual orientation and the resolution on killings came up for a vote. And the the ambassador Wanda took the floor before the entire General Assembly of the United Nations and said, people with a different sexual orientation, continue to be the target of murder, and many of our societies and are even more at risk than many of the other groups listed. This is unfortunately a reality. And recognizing that does not in any way constitute a call for special rights. But it's simply a cry to ensure that the fundamental rights, the right to life, Arise enjoyed by you and by me is not violated. to refuse to recognize this reality, for legal or ideological or cultural reasons, would have the consequences of continuing to hide our heads in the sand. And the failing to alert states those very real situations which break families. Believe me, Mr. President, that human group does not need to be legally defined to be the victim of execution or massacre. Indeed, Rwanda had this bit of experience 16 years ago. That is why the delegation of Rwanda will vote in favor of this amendment, and causing other delegations to do the same. [00:22:30] And it's clear, I think that when [00:22:33] states from regions around the world that drawing upon their own histories, their own experiences of discrimination, of violence massacre, to recognize that we all are part of one human family and to to commit to recognizing the equal rights of members of our communities, then there is great hope for the future, and great hope for moving forward. Of course, this kind of changes not happen by itself. It happens because of the the work and the dedication, the commitment, the bravery of activists and countries around the world. And that's where one of the most powerful new tools for advancing and implementing the project or the principles comes in. Many of you will have heard about the activists guides to the to the Dr. Catherine schools. Yep, I got it. And this is a copy of the of the guide itself. At the top, we have the website address, which you can download a copy of the guide. And there's also there and order form, but you can order as many copies as you like. What's powerful about the guide, is that it provides a toolkit for understanding the Georgia Carter principles in more detail, and gives examples of case studies of how the Georgia Carter principles and the legal standards outlined in the Roger Carter principles have been successfully applied by activists in countries and regions around the world. And I have to say, as one of the people who have been involved in the process leading to the adoption of the Georgia Carter principles, I'm constantly amazed at the creativity and the uses by which activists around the world have have applied these legal these legal principles on their face the legal the principles, could easily be seen as a dry legal document without much relevance or impact in our lives. But in fact, activists have have taken them up and use them around the world. In South Africa, there is a a calendar dedicated to the Georgia Carter principles, with each month dedicated to a different principle and a quote from an activist on what that principle means in their lives. There's a group that has used the Dr. Carter principles to lobby for education rights in Ghana, there's a document which maps the principles against the Nigerian constitution and for each Georgia principle, it's compared with an equivalent commitment in the Constitution of Nigeria. And I had a couple of other examples here as well, which I wanted to share with you. There's also a publication that's being produced in Kenya by activists there in collaboration was the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, and therefore representing a great example of a partnership between activists and their National Human Rights Commission to advance these issues within their society. This is a comic that's been produced in Indonesian. It's an English and Indonesian, by groups within within Indonesia. And it's a wonderful example of a comic illustration of the Dodger Carter principles telling the story of a young woman who was coming out as a lesbian in school, faces harassment and violence, rejection by her family, but goes on to discover love and at each stage of her life and each chapter of the comic is compared against a one of the principles of the larger counter principles whether it's the rights to education, the right to be free from violence, the right to participate and family and cultural life or ultimately as the book concludes the rights to to found a family which is also one of the the internationally recognized human rights. This one I really like it translation of the Georgia cash principles into, I wasn't sure what language does anyone know what language Okay, so essentially, the Lithuanian as I, as I discovered recently, I just thought it was really, really colorful and insights even better, I must say, our own visual creativity, when the initial Dr. Carter, principles were developed, rather limited, it's this kind of drab purple book. But that's the other thing that's wonderful about sharing it with our communities is that since then, there have been many more colorful examples and translations that have been produced. So this is just some examples of the ways in which the the principles have been given life by activists around the world. I'll just conclude and listen to the activist side by mentioning as I did earlier, that on the website, there is an order form at which you can order as many copies of either the principles themselves or the activists guide and different languages. And that's our organization, should you wish to find out more about our work as my my little plug there. [00:26:57] But I guess in closing, I'd like to say that all the the autocratic principles were developed by international human rights experts, they now belong to all of us as our struggle for for equality more broadly. And having participated in this conference for the last few days, I can certainly say that, that, that it could be a know, better hands in terms of the next steps, we know that there will be challenges ahead. But when we face those challenges, and whenever we we feel alone or isolated and our struggles, whenever we feel that we need to take hard, I'd like you to ask you to, to remember this moment, and to take a moment now to look around this room, and feel the spirit and the energy, and the positive engagement of all of the people who are here, and know that you are never alone. We are from all corners of the region, we are from beyond. We are many, but we are also one. And when we raise our voices together, we know that our causes just a spirit is true. And as a movement, we are unstoppable. Jada. [00:28:22] I think john has inspired us to go out on a really high note and a note that just focuses on the importance of human rights for every one of us, as individuals, but also as groups. As part of society. I sometimes think that those who have sought to denigrate human rights have sometimes claimed Well, they're only about individuals. But if you look at those rights, there's not a single right in the universal declaration that you could have, without being part of society. It's not a single, right, that doesn't need others around us to acknowledge it. And to respect it. And for us to do the same. So and I think that one of the great things about a conference like this as well, for me certainly is the extent to which that the contributions from those from many different societies. And because I live in this part of the world, particularly from the Pacific, constantly adds to my understanding of what human rights might really mean, and what's needed to put them into effect. So our understanding is evolving, though that wonderful statement and the of the Universal Declaration. It's amazing that after 64 years, it's still it still resonates for people everywhere. JOHN, I think, you know, you really have showed us that it's possible to envisage a future where everyone can be who they are, can become into who they are, and can have a place to stand to run away Why in a society where they experience dignity, equality and security. I mean, that's the fundamentals of human rights. And and we can all contribute and have a responsibility to contribute to building that society and to building a place with a wonderful richness of human diversity, including amongst sexual and gender minorities is not merely tolerated, but a celebrated

This page features computer generated text of the source audio - it is not a transcript. The Artificial Intelligence Text is provided to help users when searching for keywords or phrases. The text has not been manually checked for accuracy against the original audio and will contain many errors.