All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. All human rights are universal, interdependent, indivisible and interrelated. Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral to every person’s dignity and humanity and must not be the basis for discrimination or abuse.
Many advances have been made toward ensuring that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities can live with the equal dignity and respect to which all persons are entitled. Many States now have laws and constitutions that guarantee the rights of equality and non-discrimination without distinction on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Nevertheless, human rights violations targeted toward persons because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity constitute a global and entrenched pattern of serious concern. They include extra-judicial killings, torture and ill-treatment, sexual assault and rape, invasions of privacy, arbitrary detention, denial of employment and education opportunities, and serious discrimination in relation to the enjoyment of other human rights. These violations are often compounded by experiences of other forms of violence, hatred, discrimination and exclusion, such as those based on race, age, religion, disability, or economic, social or other status.
Many States and societies impose gender and sexual orientation norms on individuals through custom, law and violence and seek to control how they experience personal relationships and how they identify themselves. The policing of sexuality remains a major force behind continuing gender-based violence and gender inequality.
The international system has seen great strides toward gender equality and protections against violence in society, community and in the family. In addition, key human rights mechanisms of the United Nations have affirmed States’ obligation to ensure effective protection of all persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the international response to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity has been fragmented and inconsistent.
To address these deficiencies a consistent understanding of the comprehensive regime of international human rights law and its application to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity is necessary. It is critical to collate and clarify State obligations under existing international human rights law, in order to promote and protect all human rights for all persons on the basis of equality and without discrimination.
The International Commission of Jurists and the International Service for Human Rights, on behalf of a coalition of human rights organisations, have undertaken a project to develop a set of international legal principles on the application of international law to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity to bring greater clarity and coherence to States’ human rights obligations.
A distinguished group of human rights experts has drafted, developed, discussed and refined these Principles. Following an experts’ meeting held at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia from 6 to 9 November 2006, 29 distinguished experts from 25 countries with diverse backgrounds and expertise relevant to issues of human rights law unanimously adopted the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
The rapporteur of the meeting, Professor Michael O’Flaherty, has made immense contributions to the drafting and revision of the Yogyakarta Principles. His commitment and tireless efforts have been critical to the successful outcome of the process.
The Yogyakarta Principles address a broad range of human rights standards and their application to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Principles affirm the primary obligation of States to implement human rights. Each Principle is accompanied by detailed recommendations to States. The experts also emphasise, though, that all actors have responsibilities to promote and protect human rights. Additional recommendations are addressed to other actors, including the UN human rights system, national human rights institutions, the media, non-governmental organisations, and funders.
The experts agree that the Yogyakarta Principles reflect the existing state of international human rights law in relation to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. They also recognise that States may incur additional obligations as human rights law continues to evolve.
The Yogyakarta Principles affirm binding international legal standards with which all States must comply. They promise a different future where all people born free and equal in dignity and rights can fulfil that precious birthright.
Sonia Onufer Corrêa Vitit Muntarbhorn
 Sexual orientation is understood to refer to each person’s capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender
 Gender identity is understood to refer to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.