GENEVA — The United Nations endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender people for the first time yesterday, passing a resolution hailed as historic by the United States and other backers and decried by African and Muslim countries.
The declaration was cautiously worded, expressing “grave concern’’ about abuses because of sexual orientation and commissioning a global report on discrimination against gays.
But activists called it an important shift on an issue that has divided the global body for decades, and they credited the Obama administration’s push for gay rights at home and abroad.
“This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love,’’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement.
Following tense negotiations, members of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council narrowly voted in favor of the declaration put forward by South Africa, with 23 votes in favor and 19 against.
Backers included the United States, the European Union, Brazil, and other Latin American countries. Those against included Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Pakistan. China, Burkina Faso, and Zambia abstained, Kyrgyzstan didn’t vote, and Libya was suspended from the rights body earlier.
The resolution expressed “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.’’
More importantly, activists said, it also established a formal UN process to document human rights abuses against gays, including discriminatory laws and acts of violence. According to Amnesty International, consensual same-sex relations are illegal in 76 countries, and harassment and discrimination are common in many more.