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UN Rights Chief Denounces India Supreme Court Ruling Against Homosexuality

The United Nations human rights chief on Thursday voiced her disappointment at the re-criminalization of consensual same-sex relationships in India, calling it "a significant step backwards" for the country.

In a decision announced Wednesday, the Indian Supreme Court upheld a colonial-era law, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which provides for the punishment of those found guilty of "unnatural offenses."

"Criminalizing private, consensual same-sex sexual conduct violates the rights to privacy and to non-discrimination enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India has ratified," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

The Supreme Court's decision, she added in a news release, represents "a significant step backwards for India and a blow for human rights."

In 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377 in so far as it applied to sexual conduct between consenting adults in private, on the basis that criminalizing such conduct is incompatible with the fundamental principles of equality, dignity and non-discrimination enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The matter was referred to the Supreme Court on appeal.

In its verdict delivered Wednesday, India's top court declared Section 377 to be constitutionally valid, thereby overturning the 2009 High Court decision and re-instating the law.

"The Supreme Court of India has a long and proud history of defending and expanding protection of human rights. This decision is a regrettable departure from that tradition," Pillay said.

She also expressed hopes that the Supreme Court might exercise its review procedure, in effect agreeing to rehear the case before a larger panel of judges, stating that such a review would provide an opportunity for judges to reconsider whether the decision took sufficient account of all relevant arguments.

More broadly, Pillay encouraged the Indian Parliament to take definitive action to decriminalize same-sex sexual conduct. She stressed the need to ensure effective protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex individuals from violence and discrimination.

by RTT Staff Writer

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