U.N. Set To Vote On Russian Proposal To Strip LGBT Benefits

The vote is currently "too close to call," according to one Western diplomat.


WASHINGTON — Russia is bringing its domestic crackdown on LGBT rights to an unlikely forum: the Fifth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly.

Western governments are trying to defeat a measure presented by Russia at the committee, also known as the Administration and Budget Committee, on whether the U.N. can provide benefits to the partners of employees in same-sex marriages. The vote has been scheduled for Tuesday morning, according to the committee's schedule.

One Western diplomat told BuzzFeed News on Monday that the vote was currently "too close to call." Several people at the U.N. said that all efforts were focused on thwarting the Russian proposal — either through gathering enough opposition to defeat the measure or, preferably, to have Russia call off the vote altogether.

The Russians are challenging a bulletin — an official statement of policy in how the U.N. would conduct internal affairs — issued last year by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, which extended health care and other benefits to the spouses and partners of all U.N. employees currently in same-sex unions. Previously, that resource was only extended to employees who hailed from a country where that union was recognized, giving an effective veto to states who disagreed with the policy.

Russia is now seeking to overturn Ban's declaration, as first reported in Foreign Policy earlier this month.

Russia has had draft language revoking Ban's policy in its back pocket for months, but last week finally submit its draft for a vote. With all 193 member states represented in the committee, the vote would require just a simple majority to pass.

Extremely brief, and couched in the diplomatic language of the Assembly, the Russian draft would shelve last year's bulletin.

United Nations

Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for the secretary-general, told BuzzFeed News that "negotiations on language were still going on between member states." He declined to comment on potential next steps if the measure passed.

Another Western diplomat stressed the sensitivity of the issue at the U.N., where a non-binding resolution merely broadly affirming the rights of LGBT people around the world only garnered 66 supporters in 2008. Rather than using the equality argument to sway undecided countries, the diplomat said, those opposed to the Russian proposal decided to focus on the procedural issue at hand: that the secretary-general should have the ability to manage the staff of the U.N. as he or she sees fit.

That strategy could be seen in a statement from the United Kingdom to BuzzFeed News on the pending vote. "Current attempts to overturn the Secretary-General's decision about how he manages his staff, which would impact on things such as adoption of children, enable UN staff who are in same-sex relationships to receive the same allowances as heterosexual couples, and how to determine educational standards for disabled children, not only undermine the authority of the Secretary-General, but risk undoing significant gains towards equality of UN staff and the upholding of human rights," a spokesperson for the U.K. mission wrote in an email.

Russia has been a leader among countries stressing "traditional" values at the U.N., acting as a co-sponsor of a resolution in the Human Rights Council last year protecting "Protection of the Family." That resolution passed on a vote of 26–14.