World

Muslim states block gay groups from UN AIDS meeting

A group of 51 Muslim states has blocked 11 gay and transgender organizations from attending a high-level meeting at the United Nations next month on ending AIDS, sparking a protest by Canada, the United States and the European Union.

Canada, U.S., Britain protest groups' exclusion

Sudan's President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir (left) chats with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (centre) as Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) waits for a group photo at the 5th Extraordinary Organization of Islamic Co-operation Summit on Palestinian issues in Jakarta on March 7. (Garry Lotulung/Reuters)

A group of 51 Muslim states has blocked 11 gay and transgender organizations from attending a high-level meeting at the United Nations next month on ending AIDS, sparking a protest by Canada, the United States and the European Union.

Egypt wrote to the president of the 193-member General Assembly on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) to object to the participation of the 11 groups. It did not give a reason in the letter, which was obtained by CBC.

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wrote to General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft and said the groups appeared to have been blocked for involvement in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy.

"Given that transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, their exclusion 
from the high-level meeting will only impede global progress in combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic," Power wrote.

UN officials said the European Union and Canada also wrote to Lykketoft to protest the objections by the OIC group, whose members include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia, Sudan and Uganda.

'''When it comes to the involvement of civil society, whether it's in law, in policy or in practice, (these groups) need to be part of the process," Michael Grant, Canada's deputy ambassador to the UN, told CBC News. "They need to be at the table at the UN."

The issues of LGBT rights and participation in events at the United Nations have long been contentious. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has advocated for LGBT equality but faced opposition from African, Arab and Muslim states as 
well as Russia and China.

"We are deeply concerned that at every negotiation on a new General Assembly gathering, the matter of NGO (non-governmental organization) participation is questioned and scrutinized," Power wrote.

"The movement to block the participation of NGOs on spurious or hidden grounds is becoming epidemic and severely damages the credibility of the UN," she said.

Canada concerned about 'transparency' of process

Grant also expressed concern about the "transparency" of the process.

''What we would like, at a minimum, is we would like those member states that have objected to these CSOs (civil society organizations) participating to explain why they objected," he said.

CBC News has obtained Lykketoft's response to Canada, in which he writes that although he recognizes the trend ''towards limiting the openness and inclusiveness of the United Nations," he cannot divulge who objected or why.

''I have not been given the mandate to share the names of the specific member states who have made the objections nor the rationale for their objections," he said. "Therefore, I unfortunately cannot accommodate your request."

Britain's deputy UN ambassador, Peter Wilson, also registered his opposition to excluding the groups. "It's wrong to block access to the UN for transgender organizations and gay organizations who have every right to participate in this important discussion."

In 2014, Ban said the UN would recognize all same-sex marriages of its staff, allowing them to receive its benefits. Russia, with the support of 43 states including Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, India, Egypt, Pakistan and Syria, unsuccessfully tried to overturn the move last year.

In February, the 54-member African Group, the OIC and the 25-member Group of Friends of the Family led by Belarus, Egypt and Qatar protested six new UN stamps promoting LGBT equality.

The Group of Friends of the Family promotes the traditional  family. It launched a photo exhibit, "Uniting Nations for a 
Family Friendly World," at the UN on Tuesday, which is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. 

With files from CBC News