International support for gay and lesbian inclusion received a boost from the United Nations just days after the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sixty-six nations in the UN General Assembly signed a non-binding statement condemning criminal penalties against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, a second bloc of 60 nations, led by Syria and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, opposed the attempt to focus on the rights of certain persons.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanetham (Navi) Pillay supported the UN statement in a video message.

Those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, those who are transgender, transsexual or intersex, are full and equal members of the human family and are entitled to be treated as such, she said.

The ageless cliche that everyone is equal but some are more equal than others is not acceptable.

Both the statement and Pillay condemned violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation and prejudice directed against GLBT people in all countries, and particularly the continued threat of the death penalty or torture in several countries.

The stigma attached to these issues means that violence and discrimination often go unpunished as victims dare not report their cases and the authorities do not pay sufficient attention to those who do, she said.

Ironically many of these laws, like apartheid laws that criminalised sexual relations between consenting adults of different races, are relics of the colonial era and are increasingly recognised as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all.

Several international GLBT rights organisations praised the cross-regional group of countries supporting the motion, including six from the African continent, in a joint statement.

According to the International LGBTI Association (ILGA), more than 70 countries still have laws against consensual sex between adults of the same sex. Several other human rights watch groups said sodomy laws in many African countries were criminalising HIV outreach.

Human Rights Watch accused Egypt -” which actively opposed the UN statement -” of a crackdown of suspected homosexual conduct between 2001-2004, in which hundreds or thousands of men were arrested and tortured.

The Vatican sent mixed messages, initially campaigning against the UN statement because it claimed the terms sexual orientation and gender idenity had no agreed definition, but issued its own statement on the day urging governments to decriminalise homosexuality and remove unjust discrimination.

The Holy See continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges States to do away with criminal penalties against them, the Vatican published on its website.

Later the Pope was reported to have compared gender diversity to climate change ­-” a threat that needed confronting -” which upset many European GLBT groups.

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