Page last updated at 02:53 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008

UN split over homosexuality laws

By Laura Trevelyan
BBC News, United Nations

Gay rights campaigner in Sacramento, California - 22/11/2008
The US was the only major Western nation not to sign the declaration

Sixty-six countries at the United Nations have called for homosexuality to be decriminalised.

The countries signed a declaration sponsored by France and the Netherlands demanding an end to legal punishment based on sexual orientation.

Sixty other countries of the UN's 192 member states, including a number of Arab and African states, rejected the non-binding declaration.

They said laws on homosexuality should be left to individual countries.

Gay men, lesbians and transsexuals worldwide face daily violations of their human rights.

Homosexuality is a criminal offence in more than 80 countries, while in at least seven nations, including Saudi Arabia, sex between men can be punished with the death penalty.

Considerable opposition

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the French and Dutch governments are using this to highlight discrimination against homosexuals.

Their statement calls for an end to the execution, arrest and detention of homosexuals and transexuals.

The Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said it was a significant declaration.

Yet there is considerable opposition to this at the UN. Socially conservative countries in the Arab world and in Africa did not want anything to do with it.

Syria spoke on behalf of 60 countries, arguing that domestic laws should be respected, and claiming the declaration could legitimise deplorable acts including paedophilia.

The US was the only major Western nation not to sign the declaration.

Even though the US Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot make homosexuality a crime, diplomats claimed the declaration was not compatible with the division between between state and federal law.

France and the Netherlands hope more countries will sign up to the declaration in the future.

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