UN official salutes Tasmanian gay law decision as global human rights turning point / Nick Toonen 'proud' of case that 'reverberated around the world'

This media release was issued by the TGLRG on 28.7.11


The world's highest human rights official has paid tribute to the case taken by Tasmanian gay activist, Nick Toonen, to the United Nations in the 1990s which led to the state's laws against homosexuality being over turned.

The UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, today released a video looking back at the case as part of a new push from her office to highlight continued discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people around the world.

In the video Ms Pillay says the UN's decision in 1994 to uphold Nick Toonen's case and condemn Tasmania's former anti-gay laws "reverberated around the world" because it was the first time the UN acknowledged that the right to be free from discrimination applies to everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

"The Toonen case was a watershed with wide-ranging implications for the human rights of millions of people,” Ms Pillay says in the video.

“Since 1994, more than 30 countries have taken steps to abolish the offence of homosexuality."

“Some have enacted new laws providing greater protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity."

“And in many parts of the world we have witnessed a remarkable shift in public attitudes in favour of greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people.”

Nick Toonen said he was proud to have been involved in such an important moment in the advancement of human rights.

"It's humbling that so many people around the world have benefitted from the decision in my case", Mr Toonen said.

"The obvious message from the case was that gay rights are human rights, but equally important was the message that everyday people like me can take effective action to protect human rights."

"My case was very much a group effort and I want to acknowledge everyone who fought for gay law reform in Tasmania as well as the many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the world who continue to fight for their rights and their lives."

In the video Ms Pillay says criminal sanctions against homosexuality remain in place in more than 70 countries exposing millions to the risk of arrest, imprisonment, even, in some cases the death penalty.

“Not because they have harmed anyone else or pose a threat to others, but simply for being who they are and for loving another human being,” she says.

“It challenges us all to live up to the fundamental principle on which, in the end, all our human rights rest: the equal worth and the equal dignity of all human beings.”

Following the UN decision in 1994 the Federal Government passed the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act which rendered the Tasmanian laws inoperative.

Under this federal law Tasmanian gay activists took a case to the High Court to have the state laws invalidated, and they were finally repealed in 1997.

Since then Tasmania has gone on to adopt some the most progressive anti-discrimination and relationship laws in Australia.

For a copy of Navi Pillay's video statement go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qd9dGN6dBwA

For further information contact Nick Toonen on 0424 278 099 or Rodney Croome on 0409 010 668.

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