United Nations, 16 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan faces complaints from mostly Muslim member states that he has exceeded his authority by issuing a staff directive offering limited recognition of same-sex unions.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a 56-nation group, called yesterday for Annan to explain his decision in January to extend family benefits -- such as health-care coverage -- to UN employees with homosexual partners.
"The issue here is not whether we agree or disagree with any particular family model or relationship, but rather whether the UN should continue to apply national norms."
The benefits are only allowed for those whose partnerships are legally recognized in their home countries. A small number of states recognize such unions, including the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and France.
Iranian representative Alireza Tootoonchian, speaking on behalf of the OIC, told a UN General Assembly committee that there is no justification for Annan's move.
"These are delicate administrative and financial issues that should be dealt with, first and foremost, by the intergovernmental bodies," Tootoonchian said.
The UN spokesman's office said the secretariat would provide written answers to the questions raised yesterday.
Annan's directive, which took effect last month, said that family status would be granted to UN staff under the principle that "matters of personal status are determined by reference to the nationality of the staff member concerned."
Envoy Sigit Wardono of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, expressed concern that a new concept of "family" had been created without proper deliberation in UN bodies.
"My delegation is not aware that there has been an amendment to the definition of family as contained in the staff regulation to entitle others outside its scope to receive benefits," Wardono said.
A Pakistani diplomat, Shozab Abbas, told the committee his delegation is also concerned that proper administrative procedures be followed. He said it is the prerogative of member states to amend UN staff rules and regulations.
"There is no consensus among the membership of the UN on the term of domestic partnership as meaning anything other than the long-standing concept of the family. We urge the Secretariat to abide by the legislative mandates laid down by member states," Abbas said.
But a European Union representative welcomed Annan's directive, telling the committee it reflected his efforts to modernize the human resources management of the United Nations.
Turkish envoy Mehmet Sahin Onaner also defended Annan, saying he had respected the legislative authority of member states.
A Canadian representative, Jerry Kramer, said Annan was obligated to make such a decision. Without the policy change, Kramer said, the UN would be fostering discrimination within its staff by allowing some people to receive family benefits according to the norms of their countries while others did not.
"The issue here is not whether we agree or disagree with any particular family model or relationship, but rather whether the UN should continue to apply national norms. The answer has to be yes," Kramer said.
The issue is likely to heat up in the months ahead in other UN bodies. Brazil has signaled it will propose a resolution to the UN Human Rights Commission, which would call attention to violations of human rights against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
The resolution was first introduced at last year's commission meeting and faced opposition from Muslim states.
The issue of gay marriages has also emerged across the United States this year. The Bush administration is seeking a constitutional amendment barring gay marriages, but its representative did not address the issue yesterday. A U.S. diplomat said the UN staff issue is still under review in Washington.