Human rights should never be put to a vote: U.N. official

Taipei, Dec. 3 (CNA) Human rights issues should never be put to a vote, a visiting United Nations official said Monday, commenting on the passage of three referendums in Taiwan on Nov. 24 against gay rights.

In his opening address at a freedom and democracy forum in Taipei, Bruce Knotts, co-chair of the U.N. NGO Committee on Human Rights, said human right issues “should never be put to a vote as Taiwan has just done with regard to same-sex couples.”

Knotts, a gay rights activist, said Taiwan’s Constitution guarantees the rights of same-sex couples to marriage equality but the Protestant Christian churches in Taiwan decided to hold the referendums in opposition to the interpretation issued by country’s Constitutional Court.

“This is called democracy because it asks for a democratic process to rule on whether a group of people should enjoy equal protection under the law or not?” he said, adding that a similar referendum was held in Germany in the 1930s, when the German Parliament passed the Nuremburg Laws that striped Jews of their civil rights.

“The road to the death camps started with the trappings of populist democracy,” he said.

Knotts remarks came against the backdrop of 10 referendums that were held in Taiwan Nov. 24, three of which were against gay rights.

A question defending the Civil Code definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman was backed by 72.5 percent of voters in the referendum, while another on protecting the rights of same-sex couples in ways other than in the Civil Code was passed with 61.1 percent support.

The third question, on excluding legally mandated homosexual-related education in schools, was supported by 67.4 percent of the electorate.

Two other proposals, submitted by gay rights advocates after opponents of same-sex marriage forced the issue to go to a public vote, were rejected by similarly big margins.

The proposals called for the Civil Code to be amended to allow same-sex marriage and for the inclusion of gender equality education, including homosexual-related education, in school curriculums.

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court in May 2017 struck down the definition of marriage in the Civil Code and ordered that the law be amended within two years to redefine marriage as between two people, not just a man and a woman.

If the relevant laws are not amended or enacted within two years, same-sex couples will be allowed to marry under the law, using the same process laid out in the Marriage Chapter of the Civil Code, the court ruled.

Knotts comments on the issue were made at the one-day 2018 International Forum on Freedom and Democracy, which was organized by the World League for Freedom and Democracy (WLFD).

The Taipei-based WLFD is an international non-governmental organization that evolved from the Anti-Communist League and was initiated by the leaders of the Republic of China (Taiwan), South Korea and the Philippines in 1954.

It was renamed in 1990 in an effort to adjust to the global political reality and to attract more people to the freedom and democracy movement.

It is a member of the Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organizations (DPI/NGO) of the United Nations.