India votes against gay rights to UN staffers, says not consulted

United Nations/New Delhi (IANS): India was among 43 countries which voted in favour of a Russia-drafted resolution that proposed doing away with benefits for same-sex partners of the United Nations staff. India said on Wednesday that UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, a strong proponent of gay rights, had “of his own accord” changed the existing rules without consulting member countries.

The Russia resolution failed to pass in the UN General Assembly budget committee after 80 nations, mainly the US and from the European Union, opposed the move to scuttle Ban’s plan.

According to UN norms, family benefits for staff members are determined by their country of origin.

The secretary general’s plan, introduced last year, was meant to extend family benefits to all staffers who are legally married – regardless of the laws on same-sex marriage in their home countries.

The UN now recognises all same-sex couples married, regardless of their nationality.

Tuesday’s vote in the General Assembly’s budget committee was to approve additional funding to pay for the new benefits.

Ban, a strong proponent of equal rights for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community, had introduced the policy last year.

The vote went 80 to 43 against Russia’s resolution, which was supported by China, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, and Syria among the countries.

EU member states and the US lobbied hard against the resolution.

Ban’s deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that “this means that the policy stands”, adding that Ban welcomes the affirmation of his authority under the UN Charter to make such decisions.

India, explaining the move, said it was a “complex issue” concerning whether nationals of a state “were governed by their laws or governed by the decision of others”.

India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin, answering a question at a briefing, said the “UN had until recently a system whereby they would decide on emoluments or privileges for partners or spouses depending on the law of the country from where the individual hailed; what governs you as an individual in your country, on the basis of which the UN would give you the entitlements.

“This was the established practice and approved by the UN General Assembly, and accepted by all UN organisations.”

But he said the UN secretary general had “of his own accord changed that”.

He said India’s objection was to the UN Secretariat changing the system “without consulting countries concerned about this. It is not as straightforward as it looks, it is a complex issue – of our nationals of a state governed by their laws or governed by decision of others”.

India’s vote on the resolution was decided on that basis, he added.