United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pledged his support for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people, while praising India's Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex relations.
Via video, Guterres Tuesday became the first U.N. secretary-general to address the body's LGBTI Core Group, Reuters reports.
"The United Nations stands up for the rights of the LGBTI community," he said. "Many of its members are imprisoned, abused, and even killed simply for who they are or whom they love. Progress has been made in recent years, including this month with the decision by the Supreme Court of India.
"But so long as people face criminalization, bias, and violence based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics, we must redouble our efforts to end these violations.
"As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let me underscore that the United Nations will never give up the fight until everyone can live free and equal in dignity and rights."
Activists from around the world praised his message. Guterres's remarks "normalize LGBT+ rights and acknowledge them as a part of human rights," Amir Ashour, executive director of Iraqi gay rights group IraQueer, told Reuters.
But he cautioned that words must be followed by actions. "The secretary general and the U.N. need to constantly ... and actively work on encouraging them to change policies," he said.
Maria Sjodin, deputy executive director of OutRight Action International, also lauded Guterres's comments. "It's great, as we've been waiting to get something longer and more substantial than just a response to a couple of questions that he's had before," she told Reuters.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet delivered a longer speech at the meeting. "More than 70 countries criminalize consensual same-sex relationships, and also criminalize transgender people based on their appearance," she said.
"These laws subject LGBT people to long prison sentences, and in some cases physical punishment. They also implicitly encourage prejudice, hatred, and violence. But laws can change."