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Protecting human rights for all

Every December 10th the United Nations commemorates International Human Rights Day, celebrating the day on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in 1948. From the global to the local, international and national stakeholders are doing their part to ensure the rights of all persons are protected. In looking at the road ahead, it is clear that there is still much to be done to ensure all persons have full access to the rights guaranteed to them as human beings.

Many disadvantaged groups, such as women, indigenous people, or impoverished people, face greater challenges to accessing their rights.

"Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home… Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”
–Eleanor Roosevelt, “The Great Question," remarks delivered at the United Nations in New York on March 27, 1958.

Often when we think about human rights, we think of laws, constitutions, and polices that dictate how governments must respect the rights of individuals. Many of our existing laws around human rights draw from the UDHR – a document that has been translated into over 500 different languages. Yet, documents on their own do not protect the rights of individuals. It is up to all of us to each of us to promote and protect human rights around the world.

Human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity
Many disadvantaged groups, such as women, indigenous people, or impoverished people, face greater challenges to accessing their rights. One group that has only recently begun to attract international attention are gender and sexual minorities, often referred to as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. Around the world, stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity prevent many people from enjoying their human rights, negatively affecting the development of individuals, communities, and countries. This denial of rights takes many forms, including but not limited to, lack of access to education, housing, and economic opportunity; denial of healthcare; criminalization based on identity; interpersonal and state-sponsored violence, including torture and the death penalty. Unfortunately, due to widespread homophobia and transphobia, many states fail to respect, protect, or fulfill the human rights of gender and sexual minorities.

International bodies are taking notice and doing their part to reverse this. Just this year, the UN Human Rights Council appointed its first independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Numerous countries have also reversed their policies on LGBTI rights or collaborated with the UN to bring to light current challenges facing the community.

Our work at the local level
In Kenya, as in many countries around the world, gender and sexual minorities are subject to social exclusion, violence, and other human rights violations. In some instances, religion has been used as justification for these abuses, and has even been used to incite mob violence. To address these human rights violations, Palladium and its local partner, PEMA Kenya, are working with religious leaders to sensitize them to the needs of gender and sexual minorities; help leaders understand what human rights mean at the personal level; and the roles that they can play in protecting the human rights of vulnerable members of their communities.

Through trainings and working group discussions, many Christian and Islamic religious leaders in Kenya now appreciate not only the universality of human rights, but also that those rights are in unison with their own faith. This did not come easily. The curriculum used for these trainings is designed to patiently take someone through the values of diversity, the health issues of vulnerable communities, and then human rights and the needs of the LGBTI community. Through this process, religious leaders understand the need to respect human rights, and that they as individuals have the power to protect these rights.

The desire for such knowledge is there in the community. Said one religious leader, “I have been receiving calls from Anglicans and independent churches alike to talk to their elders and other leaders on matters of sexual and gender diversity. My church has become like a calling centre and is open to people of all walks of life.”

An ongoing responsibility
The protection of human rights is a responsibility we all share. We all must do more to help those in need, especially the most vulnerable. As the religious leaders in Kenya are doing, we ask the international community to champion the cause of human rights. Some of the ways we can do this include:

  • Listen: We must listen to the communities we are helping to see what their needs are, what their challenges are, and how they think their problems can be resolved. Unless we partner with communities to address their problems, we will never fully understand the issues and solutions.
  • Build partnerships: The work we do cannot exist in a vacuum. Supporting the LGBTI community requires support from religious leaders, business leaders, health advocates, and government leaders. Reaching out to these groups, sensitively and in partnership with the LGBTI community, is necessary.
  • Know your human rights: We all must know what human rights guaranteed to us by the United Nations and our governments. We must also share our knowledge with our local partners. Once we know what rights should be guaranteed and are currently not, we can more strongly advocate for governments to change their policies and procedures.

Above all, we must never stop pushing for the human rights of all people. Advocates must continue to push for funding of human rights projects and organizations, and support the needs of advocates. We must continue to strive to respect the rights of individuals everywhere and ensure they are knowledgeable on their rights. After all, if people cannot fully enjoy their rights everywhere, then human rights have little meaning anywhere.


For more information about our work with religious leaders on LGBTI rights please email Andrew Zapfel or Ashley Gibbs (, and visit our health capabilities page.