An important uphill battle

Published 23 October 2019 in:

Pride in Vienna. Photo: Harald Klemm

Rainbow flags, pop music and a party atmosphere – Pride parades are a demonstration of the right to love who you want and to be who you want. This year, the Swedish Foreign Service took part in around ten Pride parades around the world. Although there has been significant progress in many areas, the work to safeguard human rights for LGBTI people has often met with resistance.

 Through its determined and systematic action, Sweden continues to fight to ensure that LGBTI people can enjoy human rights even when the Pride parade has come to an end, the music has been switched off and the glitter has been washed off the streets.

Anna Envall and Anna Öberg work on LGBTI issues at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Department for International Law, Human Rights and Treaty Law. Important arenas for Sweden’s commitment include the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly Third Committee.

“Another way is to take up the treatment of LGBTI people in dialogues on human rights with other countries and in various multilateral contexts.”

Sweden was recently admitted to the LGBTI Core Group in New York, which is an excellent arena for making these issues visible and promoting them globally.

“We are proud to have been admitted to this group as this is the result of conscious efforts and shows a confidence that we have built up, partly during our time on the UN Security Council,” says Anna Envall.

Sweden also supports human rights defenders working on LGBTI issues. This includes support to organisations and networks that can contribute various types of protection – for example, regarding IT and personal security, legal assistance or medical care.

“A concrete example is the MFA’s financial support to the organisation Civil Rights Defenders, which has its head office in Stockholm. The organisation has an emergency fund that can finance an immediate relocation of a civil rights defender who is in danger. This provides important and concrete support to people pursuing various human rights issues, despite considerable personal risk to themselves and those close to them,” says Anna Öberg.

Sweden’s commitment to LGBTI people in development work is extensive. Through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sweden supports global, regional and local partners working to influence attitudes and protect, safeguard, and defend LGBTI people’s enjoyment of their human rights.

One difficulty is that developments do not solely move forwards – in some cases they are moving backwards. The right of LGBTI people to fully enjoy their human rights is not a matter of course even in all of the EU Member States. This leads to long internal negotiations when the EU’s agreed views are to be applied, for instance, in speeches or resolutions.

“How a country views LGBTI people is often a good indicator of how it views the principle of the equal worth of all people,” says Anna Öberg.

She explains that when arrests of or violence against LGBTI people or activists increase, it is often a sign that the situation for civil society in general is deteriorating. LGBTI people often suffer problems first.

But, despite – or because of – the difficulties, it is important to carry on working to ensure the equal worth of all people. Working to ensure that everyone can enjoy their human rights to the full, including LGBTI people, is a central part of our feminist foreign policy.

“That Sweden stands up for the equal worth of all people is a central issue in our work and part of public international law,” says Anna Öberg.