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Ambassador Rob Zaagman: Highlighting LGBT+ Rights This Human Rights Day

Ambassador Rob Zaagman express
Ambassador Rob Zaagman
express Magazine
Written by express Magazine

To honour the upcoming International Human Rights Day, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is hosting a special LGBT+ documentary film screening on Saturday. We speak to Ambassador Rob Zaagman about the importance of recognising LGBT+ rights around the world.

“Human rights are not about special rights for some, it’s about equal rights for all,” says  Ambassador Rob Zaagman. “But we wanted to single out the position of LGBT+ people because they are a particularly vulnerable group.

“In so many countries they are still oppressed and even persecuted today.  In over 70 countries, same-sex relationships are criminalised, in eight of them even punishable by death.”

He says that the measure of respect given to a particular minority group is an indication of a state’s attitude to human rights in general, as they apply to all of us.

“LGBT+ people are often the proverbial canary in the coal-mine – when their rights are not respected, there’s often a lot more that is wrong in a society.”

Human Rights Day this year kick-starts a year-long campaign to mark the 70 years since the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a document that outlines the rights of all people regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

“International Human Rights Day reminds us of the fact that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’, to quote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” says Ambassador Zaagman.

“In countries like New Zealand and the Netherlands, people can enjoy their rights and freedoms, and human beings elsewhere long for these freedoms, too.

“But there are also a number of fundamental freedoms that are under increasing threat in some parts of the world.  We cannot stand idly by when injustice is still prevalent or even spreading.”

He says even our own countries, there is room for improvement and Human Rights Day appeals to us to work towards that end.

Working towards ensuring that LGBT+ rights are recognised as Human Rights in all nations, the Ambassador says international partnerships are essential.

“We can accomplish more together than as individual countries, committees, agencies or organisations,” he says.

He believes international forums such as United Nations Human Rights Council, or the International Olympic Committee, need to build a coalition and join forces with civil society organisations.

“Let’s also learn from each other by sharing best practices, and by analysing mistakes.

“In our own countries, we can take action such as offering protection to LGBTI who are being threatened. Or to provide financial support to local and international LGBTI organisations. For instance, the Netherlands was one of the countries behind establishing the Global Equality Fund with which LGBTI activists are supported worldwide.

“Progress is possible. Australia has now become the 25th country to recognize same-sex marriage.”

Dutch Embassies around the world are known for openly supporting LGBT+ communities despite local attitudes, the Ambassador says the protection and promotion of human rights have always been a Dutch government priority. 

“We believe in championing improvements in the legal position of LGBT+ worldwide and social progress for a just world.  We cannot be relaxed when so many LGBT+ people are still oppressed today.”

“Importantly, we need to speak up and draw attention to the issue. That is why the Embassy of the Netherlands is proud to host a film on gay discrimination screening to mark International Human Rights Day.

“There is always a need to redouble our efforts to ensure human rights are applied for all, in all places, and at all times.”

While New Zealand and The Netherlands have made vast progress to protect the rights of LGBT+ citizens, there are still many nations in the world where LGBT+ communities do not have the same rights as other citizens.

Ambassador Zaagman believes the most pressing of these issues that need to be addressed would seem to be the decriminalisation of homosexuality and in particular the abolition of the death penalty.

“If governments set a bad example, discriminate, criminalise and even murder LGBTI people, people think they have a licence to do the same,” he says.

“But this can only be a first step.”

If you’re in Wellington, be sure to head along to “Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?”. The award-winning documentary describes Saar Maoz’s story as a gay man growing up on a kibbutz in Israel. When his family finds out about his sexual preference, he flees to London.

After almost 20 years of living abroad, he finds the strength to face his family again, with the support of his friends from the London Gay Men’s Chorus. Saar’s journey of healing old wounds by overcoming prejudice and fear makes for a sensitive documentary.

Ambassador Zaagman will make opening remarks before the film and will be joined by marriage equality champion Louisa Wall who will speak about her experience with submitting a bill to the private member’s bill ballot to legalise same-sex marriage in New Zealand.

Saturday, 9 December at 4:00 pm in Wellington

Venue: Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, 84 Taranaki Street

Tickets can be bought at Eventbrite.

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express Magazine

express Magazine

express is New Zealand's leading LGBT+ publication. Our goal is to inform and support our community by delving into relevant people, stories and events.