The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday applauded the decision by the Indian Supreme Court to decriminalize consensual same sex relations.
“This is a great day for India and for all those who believe in the universality of human rights,” Bachelet said. “With this landmark decision, the Indian Supreme Court has taken a big step forward for freedom and equality. I hope that other courts elsewhere in the world will look to India’s example and be encouraged to move in the same direction.”
Laws that criminalize consensual same-sex relations violate fundamental rights including the rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination.
“Throughout the world such laws have led to a litany of abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people including arbitrary arrests, violence, bullying in schools, denial of access to health and harassment at work,” the High Commissioner said. “Such discriminatory laws have no place in the 21st century, and I’m delighted the Indian Supreme Court has recognised that. Yesterday’s decision, which was unanimous and may not be appealed, effectively settles the matter in India once and for all.”
The most immediate effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling is that section 377 of the Indian Penal Code – a colonial era law – will no longer criminalize consensual same sex relations in private. But its real impact is likely to be much wider: by decriminalizing same sex relationships, the court has sent a powerful signal that LGBT people are equal and valued members of the Indian community.
“While the decision on section 377 will not achieve equality overnight,” Bachelet said, “it does pave the way for greater inclusion and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in India, and over time may help dispel the stigma associated with being LGBT.” She urged the authorities to move swiftly to build on the court’s decision by introducing new measures to protect the rights of LGBT people – including effective anti-discrimination measures.
The High Commissioner also paid tribute to the LGBT community in India, “particularly to the many LGBT activists and their allies in the human rights movement who worked so hard and waited so long for this moment.”
The Supreme Court’s decision follows a protracted legal dispute over the constitutionality of section 377. In 2009 the Delhi High Court ruled that the provision should not criminalize consensual same-sex relations, but that judgment was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013 on grounds contested by many activists and human rights lawyers. A petition challenging the 2013 decision eventually led the Supreme Court to establish a panel of five of the country’s most senior judges to review the constitutionality of section 377.
Michelle Bachelet took up office as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 1 September.