This 10th December 2023 will mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which is a milestone document in the history of human rights. It was in fact the first time that countries agreed on a set of freedoms and rights that deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equally and in dignity.
The declaration sets out fundamental human rights to be universally protected.
The UDHR is widely recognised as having inspired, and paved the way for the adoption of more than seventy human rights treaties, applied today on a permanent basis at global and regional levels.
The 30 rights enshrined in the UDHR, such as right to equality, right to dignity, right to non-discrimination, right to life, right to liberty, right to security, right to privacy, right to freedom of movement, right to seek asylum from persecution, right to nationality, right to education and right to health, are “universal”.
These rights are universal because everyone is born with and possess the same rights, regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, politics, or where they were born. These rights are for humans, because their existence is based on the premise that one is born human without any other consideration.
It is worth nothing that during the drafting of the UDHR, women delegates from various countries played a pivotal role in ensuring that women’s rights are included in the Declaration. Hansa Mehta of India is widely credited with changing the phrase “All men are born free and equal” to “All human beings are born free and equal” in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Human Rights and World War 2
The adoption of the UDHR was in response to the “barbarous acts which outraged the conscience of mankind” during the Second World War and the UDHR remains one of the foundations for Global peace.
The Second World War in itself was the East v/s the West, a fight against colonialism and imperialism and a sentiment of nationalism, among others.
The horrors of war are perhaps better remembered by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer people around the world. World War Two remains a truly and profoundly disturbing moment for LGBTQ people as under Nazi Germany, queer people, similar to Jewish people, were branded and considered less than human.
While Pink Triangle was used by Hitler’s army to identify queer people, Jewish people were identified through the yellow Jewish Badge (the yellow Star of David).
History deeply connects and roots queer people, to the trauma faced by Jewish people as LGBTQ people have a shared and common past etched in the bloody history. LGBTQ people need to oppose antisemitism or any form of racism, discrimination and exclusion.
On the eve of the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights, while condemning all forms of terrorism, queer people, are duty-bound and fate-bound to remember the terrible events of Second World War and our intertwined history with the Jewish community, but also, stay connected to the many oppressed people and populations as a result of war, including Palestine and Ukraine.
European Union support to LGBTQ rights in Mauritius and Section 250
The theme of the Human Rights Day this year is “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All”, reminding us that every human being is born free and equal in dignity and rights regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
On 13 December 2018 in connection with the Human Rights Day, the National Human Rights Commission and the EU Delegation in Mauritius held a panel discussions on the theme “Promoting and Protecting Human Rights for LGBTI Persons”.
At that time, as young activists, and Civil Society Organisations, we were faced with the Goliathan task of fighting for our rights by accessing the Supreme Court for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Mauritius, similar to India and other countries in the region.
Five years after, the landmark judgments of the Supreme Court Judgments of Ah-Seek v/s the State of Mauritius and Fokeerbux & Ors. v/s the State of Mauritius in the presence of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police reading down Section 250(1) of the Criminal Code resonates equality for LGBTQI people in Mauritius and globally. The Court in fact stated that Section 250(1) of the Criminal Code indeed had the effect of criminalising LGBTQI people in Mauritius, and today, LGBTQI people are no longer criminalised.
This milestone for the Equal Human Rights, Diginity, Freedom and Justice for LGBTQI people redefines the way that citizens, the Public Administration and the Judiciary need to view the advancement and protection of LGBTQI rights in Mauritius.
This change was not going to happen only with our fights in Court. It was pressing for us, as plaintiffs but also for the Young Queer Alliance to ensure that changing the hearts and minds of the population accompanied the Court process – one fight in the Court another one in society.
As an organisation, the YQA could mobilise the community and funding from donors for this strategic and planned effort. The European Union Delegation in Mauritius, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, the Equal Rights in Action / National Democratic Institute, The Other Foundation and Planet Romeo Foundation supported different Projects including through the empowerment of LGBTQI ambassadors, media training, engagement with both the Public and Private sectors, and research.
The rights of LGBTQI people in Mauritius beyond decriminalisation
Although Section 250(1) has been declared unconstitutional, it remains crucial to educate the queer community and the population at large of the Judgment beyond same-sex acts. The Judgment is about human freedom, equality, dignity and rights.
This Symposium, therefore, allowed for a reflection on the 75 years of the UDHR in terms of human development and its relevance in today’s world as well as exploring the rights of LGBTQI people in Mauritius beyond decriminalisation.
Recognition of trans people and marriage equality, amongst others, remain to be achieved. Our long walk to freedom can only be possible, when each of us, irrespective of our sex, gender, sexual orientation, can fully enjoy our freedom and rights on an equal basis as each other, and as we grow together as a community, activists, Civil Society Organisations, Government, Development Partners, the Private Sector, the Academia and Media Representatives.
Young Queer Alliance