Metro Weekly

Russia: We don’t want marital benefits for gay U.N. employees

UN_General_Assembly_hall

One has to wonder if Russia even cares about its reputation on the world stage any more. Recent practices suggest that Putin and co. are working hard for that coveted “Worst Country in the World” prize, what with Ukraine, the murder of Boris Nemtsov, and the country’s continued and encroaching persecution of its LGBT citizens.

Now? Russia wants to harm gay and lesbian people outwith its borders, after it objected to a landmark ruling by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The administrative ruling extended marital benefits to gay and lesbian employees at the United Nations, as well as to other workers who were in legally recognized partnerships. As Foreign Policy reports, Russia is less than excited over the new rules.

At a budget committee meeting, Russian diplomat Sergey Khalizov asked for a reversal of Ban’s ruling, claiming the secretary-general had violated a U.N. General Assembly resolution stating that an employee’s government is responsible for determining their eligibility for spousal benefits.

“We will insist that the secretary-general urgently revoke the administrative bulletin,” Khalizov told the committee. Russia could call a vote in the budget committee which — if successful — could halt funding for the new benefits.

In an email to Foreign Policy, a Russian spokesman stated that the issue was “very important” to Russia. “We would prefer to make a decision…by consensus but if some delegations do not demonstrate a constructive approach to the concerns raised by us and shared by many other member states, then we’ll have no other choice but to call for a vote.”

Russia “is looking for any excuse to curtail the U.N. secretary-general’s authority,” Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said in an email to Foreign Policy. “It’s no secret that the secretary-general and Russia have been at cross-purposes over Ukraine and Syria, and the Russians have found the perfect political vehicle for attacking him.”

Isobel Coleman, U.S. representative to the U.N. for management and reform, told the committee that the budget session “should not be a forum for member states to undermine essential rights with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

“The secretary-general, as the head of this organization, has broad authority to manage U.N. staff under his authority, and we will protect his prerogatives in this manner,” Coleman continued.

Ban Ki-moon has frequently clashed with Russia during his time as secretary-general. As well as condemning the murder of Nemtsov in Moscow last week, or his prophetic statement that “a small incident can quickly lead to a situation spiralling out of anyone’s control” at the start of the Ukraine crisis, Ban also condemned Russia’s actions against its LGBT citizens during the Sochi Winter Olympics. “The United Nations stands strongly behind our own ‘free and equal’ campaign,” Ban stated. “I look forward to working with the IOC, governments and other partners around the world to build societies of equality and tolerance. Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century.”

In 2013, Ban told the Oslo Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity that governments have a “legal duty” to protect LGBT people, and “culture, tradition or religion” were inexcusable reasons for failing that legal duty.

“We should all be outraged when people suffer discrimination, assault and even murder, simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” Ban stated. “We should all speak out when someone is arrested and imprisoned because of who they love or how they look. This is one of the great, neglected human rights challenges of our time. We must right these wrongs.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Russia is seeking to undermine the secretary-general on the issue of spousal benefits. Heaven forbid a country slowly stripping rights from LGBT people at home be forced to provide benefits for its gay and lesbian employees at the U.N.

Image Credit: Patrick Gruban / Wikimedia

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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