Senior Administration Officials
March 16, 2023
MODERATOR: Thanks so much and welcome, everyone. Thanks for joining this background briefing. The focus of today’s call will be the Arria-formula meeting on integrating the human rights of LGBTI persons into the work of the UN Security Council that the United States is convening on March 20 at UN Headquarters in New York. This call is on background, and you can attribute what you hear to Senior Administration Officials. For your knowledge only and not for reporting purposes, I’m happy to let you know that we have on the line with us today [Senior Administration Official One] and [Senior Administration Official Two]. Again, you can attribute what our briefers say to a Senior Administration Official, and the call is embargoed until its conclusion.
And with that, I’ll ask [Senior Administration Official Two] to kick us off.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you. Good afternoon.
On Monday, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield will convene a historic meeting of the UN Security Council to talk about how the Council can better integrate concerns of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) persons in the course of carrying out its important mandate.
We are co-sponsoring this event with Albania, Brazil, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, along with the UN LGBTI Core Group, which I’ll – we’ll describe in a second. This meeting will be held in the informal “Arria Format” of the Security Council at 3:00 p.m. on Monday in the ECOSOC Chamber at the UN Secretariat Headquarters building.
For those of you who don’t cover the UN day in and day out, if I could just explain what is an Arria formula meeting. It’s essentially an informal meeting of the Council, convened by one of the Security Council – or more of the Security Council members, and it’s a tool that we’ve used in the past to raise issues that, for one reason or another, have not come onto the Security Council’s formal agenda. And so not only do Council members participate in Arrias, other countries and observers can as well, and we’ve found this to be a real powerful forum to demonstrate support for and build momentum toward adding issues on the Council’s agenda and improving how the Council works. And some of you may be tracking we have an Arria just tomorrow on DPRK human rights.
Before I describe how this meeting will proceed on Monday, let me just take a step back and explain why we are bringing this issue to the Council. As you know, the Security Council has this unique mandate under the UN Charter to maintain international peace and security. And in recent decades, the Security Council has really made progress understanding better the roots of war. And it has also tackled the unique needs of different communities in situations of armed conflict and fragile societies.
For example, the Security Council has an active workstream on Women, Peace and Security. The Council has also looked at the unique challenges faced by children in armed conflict, and youth, and disabled persons.
And so along these lines, in 2015, the United States convened a historic meeting for the first time ever in which the Security Council looked at the issues affecting the LGBTI community and its experiences in situations of conflict. And at that meeting, the Security Council heard from two individuals who had experienced persecution by the ISIS terrorist group.
Since 2015, the entire UN System has made progress better understanding the unique challenges, perspectives, and needs of LGBTI persons. We believe that now the time has come to institutionalize and regularize the Security Council’s approach to LGBTI issues. And that’s why we’re convening this meeting on Monday. Our goal is to find better ways to integrate these concerns into the Security Council’s day-to-day work on all the issues on its agenda.
At the meeting on Monday, in a historic first, the Security Council will receive a briefing from the UN’s Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
The UN Human Rights Council created this position in 2016. It’s now being held by Victor Madrigal-Borloz. And since then, the Independent Expert position has brought new urgency to a wide range of concerns about the human rights of LGBTI people.
Just last year the Independent Expert released a report focused squarely on how gender and sexual orientation and gender identity dynamics operate in the context of armed conflict, and within peacebuilding and peacemaking.
We hope that Monday’s Security Council meeting will build on this report and lead to really specific steps that the Security Council can take in response.
So, for example, how might the Council consider the special requirements of refugees who are transgender or gender non-conforming? How should the Security Council approach accountability for war crimes that deliberately target LGBTI persons? How can UN peacekeeping missions better report on violations against the human rights of LGBTI people that might destabilize already fragile societies? And what role might there be for LGBTI people in peace and reconciliation processes, especially when you have conflicts where there is violence explicitly targeted against LGBTI communities?
To frame the discussion, we have invited two civil society briefers to share with the Security Council their experiences. On Monday, we’ll hear from a gay Afghan refugee who has fled Taliban persecution. And we’ll also hear from a Colombian civil society leader who’s played an important role integrating LGBTI perspectives into Colombia’s peace process. Our second speaker will tell us a little bit more about them shortly.
At this meeting, we are asking countries to make specific commitments to address LGBTI human rights concerns in the Security Council. So, for example, we ourselves will commit to ask questions of UN officials regarding human rights violations of LGBTI persons. We will also commit to raise in our national statements at the Security Council any reports or abuses or other concerns unique to the LGBTI community, and when appropriate, we’ll propose language in Security Council resolutions where there are egregious violations.
In addition to hearing from Security Council members, we expect a statement on Monday from the UN LGBTI Core Group. This is a group of over 40 countries committed to advancing the human rights of LGBTI persons at the UN.
Before I conclude, I just want to make a broader point about the role of human rights in the UN Security Council. There are some who say the Security Council has no business discussing human rights, that this important body should stick narrowly to matters of war and peace. But, as we have seen time and time again, human rights are of vital concern to the Security Council. When rights are violated, societies are destabilized and they’re more likely to fall victim to war and conflict. That’s why the United States has consistently raised human rights considerations in the Council. For example, a few months ago we hosted an Arria meeting of the Security Council in response to Iran’s deadly crackdown on the human rights of women and girls. And as I mentioned, tomorrow we will draw the Security Council’s attention to the atrocious human rights record of North Korea. These are issues of vital concern to the Council.
I should also note that in Monday’s meeting, U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Jessica Stern will participate as part of the formal U.S. delegation and she has already played a key role in supporting Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s engagement on these issues.
I’d like to pass to our second speaker.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks so much, [Senior Administration Official Two]. Hi, everyone. This is [Senior Administration Official One]. And I am here to just say how much I’m looking forward to Monday’s Arria and especially the importance of hearing from the two civil society briefers: Artemis Akbary, who is the founder and director of Afghan LGBT Organization; and María Susana Peralta Ramón, a lawyer and scholar who leads the peace and transitional justice team at the NGO known as Colombia Diversa. The two of them will put these issues into their specific country contexts. And I think those country contexts – Afghanistan and Colombia – clearly illustrate why it’s vital to bring the experiences of LGBTQI+ persons into the Security Council and, more importantly, into our approaches to maintaining peace and security internationally.
LGBTQI+ Afghans, like other marginalized groups in Afghanistan, face increased oppression and violence, but in their case it’s due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. And while the situation in Afghanistan right now is incredibly difficult, we unfortunately see the stigma and abuse continue when Afghans emigrate. Refugees and asylum-seekers face a complex array of challenges and threats, including discrimination, prejudice, violence, and difficulty accessing assistance. It seems only appropriate to highlight the complexity of the challenges they face at the Security Council itself.
On the other hand, Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace really serves as a model for peacebuilding that is inclusive of marginalized communities. Colombia’s peace process has been uniquely inclusive of the voices of LGBTQI+ persons and others who have historically been left out of post-conflict transitions toward restored justice. That inclusion is paying dividends in what has the potential to be increased and sustained stability and security in Colombia. And we think that it’s important for the Council to focus on concrete solutions, such as those we’ve seen in Colombia’s experience, to best integrate LGBTQI+ considerations into its work.
Our view is that we need to build on best practices. And we need to embrace a mindset in the Security Council where, as the Council addresses the crisis of the day, members consistently ask relevant questions such as: What can the Security Council do to increase protection for LGBTQI+ persons in this conflict? Or how can we expand the Women, Peace, and Security agenda to include intersectional identities? Or have we included the perspectives of LGBTQI+ persons in a peacekeeping mission or in a peacebuilding process?
The truth is that the struggle to end violence, discrimination, criminalization, and stigma against LGBTQI+ persons is a global challenge, and one that remains central to our commitment to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all individuals. President Biden has made LGBTQI+ human rights a foreign policy priority. Shortly after taking office, he issued a presidential memorandum which directed all U.S. foreign affairs agencies to ensure that our diplomacy and foreign assistance programming promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons globally. And of course, that includes our various Missions to the United Nations.
So I’ll just conclude by saying I’m very glad that we’re convening this Arria on Monday – it’s sorely needed – and I’m glad that we’re doing so alongside so many co-sponsors. There’s much more that I could say, but I’ll stop there and we’ll take questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you to both of our officials. And if you joined a little late, this call is on background, and you can attribute what you hear to a Senior Administration Official. And I’ll ask our AT&T moderator to review the instructions for joining the queue for questions, and then we’ll take it from there.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Once again, for questions on the phone, it’s 1 and then 0. You’ll hear an acknowledgement that you’ve been placed into queue, and you can remove yourself from queue by repeating the 1-0 command. We ask if you’re using a speaker phone to please pick up your handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, for questions from the phones, it’s 1 and then 0.
We’ll go to the line of Pamela Falk with CBS News.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Perfectly.
QUESTION: Okay, great. I thought I got disconnected. Thank you for the briefing to both of you, or all three of you. My first question is a very technical UN question. Is there going to be a product? And were there any UN special envoys [inaudible] that will be involved in this or speaking at it?
And then my bigger question is, what is – [Senior Administration Official One], what is your answer to those two questions in terms of can the UN move forward to include this in the agenda of Women, Peace, and Security or in any resolution? And what – is it possible to get an embargoed text before you speak?
And finally, is UNTV covering this, since there was the brouhaha about North Korea? Thanks.
MODERATOR: I’ll jump in with your last one there, Pam. UNTV is covering this. And I’ll turn it to [Senior Administration Official Two] and [Senior Administration One].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks. On the question on a product, UN Security Council Arria meetings generally do not release products in the same way as a formal meeting of the Security Council releases resolutions or presidential statements. But what we are doing is working with other members of the Core Group, those 40-plus group of countries, cross-regional, that works to advance LGBTI rights issues at the UN, to have them speak with one voice. And that statement is being negotiated now and developed and will be read out at the meeting.
Just interestingly – and Pamela, I know you follow UN issues closely – my understanding is there’s only been one Security Council product that has addressed these issues; it was a statement after the Pulse nightclub shooting in which the Security Council condemned that as an act of terrorism and did refer to sexual orientation as being a driving factor.
In terms of participation from the UN, the key element here is this briefing by the UN’s Independent Expert. And as you know, it’s very common for UN independent experts, special rapporteurs, special representatives of the Secretary-General to brief the Security Council. But this position is relatively new. It has only been – it was authorized only in 2016, and so this is the first time that the UN’s Independent Expert will be briefing the Security Council, and we hope that it will not be the last time, that just as with other UN officials that there will be a dialogue on the issues.
There will be other UN officials in attendance. I don’t have more information about who will actually be there. But again, it’s the Independent Expert who will have that formal role similar to on other UN topics.
Over to [Senior Administration Official One].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks so much for your questions, Pamela. So starting with can the UN move forward in the WPS agenda and on other opportunities to raise these issues, such as resolutions, yes – absolutely. That is the entire reason we are holding this space. I just want to note that the UN Security Council is one of the last bastions of silence – relative silence – on LGBTI issues at the United Nations. This is the second-ever Arria on LGBTI issues, as Josh mentioned. It’s not a great track record given all of the decades that the Security Council has been in existence.
The only time the Security Council has ever made explicit reference to any of the issues that fall under the LGBTI umbrella was after the tragic massacre at the Pulse nightclub shooting, when the Security Council issued a press release condemning arbitrary and targeted acts of violence based on sexual orientation.
So the UN has a lot that it could do in this space, and I just want to say I think the WPS agenda needs more explicit inclusion of lesbian and bisexual women, of transgender women and men – because transgender men often are not recognized as the men that they are; they are perceived to be women – and intersex people. And we know this is important because in times of war and conflict as well as disaster settings, this is a group that is often targeted for corrective rape, forced pregnancy, and other forms of human rights abuses and violations.
On the question of resolutions, that’s an area where the U.S. is extremely motivated. Right now you might be aware that there are only three resolutions across the entire UN system that make reference to sexual orientation and gender identity: one in the Human Rights Council and two in the GA. So again, when you consider all the resolutions at the UN, it’s not a deep bench of recognition. And till today, we have zero resolutions that make reference to the ways that intersex people are vulnerable.
The Security Council is such a powerful mechanism, so if we can change the narrative in that space, all of the other parts of the UN will follow.
OPERATOR: We’ll go next to the line of Michelle Nichols with Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you so much for this briefing. [Senior Administration Official Two], this is probably a question for you. Given the approach of some other Council members to the LGBTI community, are you expecting full attendance? Specifically, are you expecting Russia to be there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Hi, Michelle. Hope you’re well. We do not know. Our team in New York is talking to all Security Council members and is trying to get a sense of who will attend. As you know from covering other Arrias, sometimes countries attend at different levels and sometimes these – there are disagreements. But right now I have no information and we might not know until the last minute how other Council members choose to engage in this meeting.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go next to the line of Alex Cooper with The Advocate.
QUESTION: Hi there. Thank you so much for this briefing. I’m curious to know about how the war in Ukraine will affect this meeting or decisions will arise about this given Russia’s kind of hardening stance when it comes to LGBTQ rights, and kind of this movement in Ukraine when it comes to LGBT rights kind of progressing. So if someone could speak a bit about that, thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: It’s a good question. I think I would note, though, that as you heard from my laydown, the purpose of this meeting is to look broadly at situations of armed conflict, trends, and best practices. And so this is not a reactive meeting or a meeting that is focused on a particular conflict or a particular country.
That said, and maybe throw it over to [Senior Administration Official One], there are issues in this conflict that we are focused on, and I would defer to the [Senior Administration Official One] in terms of what we’re doing on those issues.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think it’s impossible to have a conversation about the vulnerabilities of LGBTQI people without looking at what’s been happening in Ukraine. So I’m sure that’s going to be a question that people are asking. I can imagine that it might be referenced in some of the statements by other missions.
I just want to note that there’s some remarkable progress happening in Ukraine, in part as a reaction to the invasion by Russia. You might have followed, but this week a domestic partnership bill was introduced in the Ukrainian parliament, and one of the arguments that advocates have been using for it is because Ukraine knows who its allies are and wants to be aligned with the international community’s human rights agenda.
So I think there is a lot of opportunity to sort of utilize the Arria that we’re having to help continue momentum forward for recognition of the distinct ways that LGBTQI people are targeted in conflict and the ways that governments can respond to make sure they are more protected.
MODERATOR: All right. I think we have run out of time with our briefers today, but I want to thank both of them for joining us and I want to thank everyone who joined the call today. Again, if you joined late, this was on background. You can attribute what you heard today to senior administration officials, and we look forward to seeing some of you on Monday.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Bye, everyone.