United Nations (United States) (AFP) - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday warned countries that criminalize homosexuality they were "bucking the tide of history," during the first UN high-level meeting on LGBT rights.
Held on the sidelines of the General Assembly, the meeting was attended by US Vice President Joe Biden and leaders from some 20 countries defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people worldwide.
Ban said it was an "outrage" than hundreds are killed in anti-gay violence every year and millions "live their lives in the shadow of discrimination and disapproval."
"Several countries are bucking the tide of history with draconian new punishments for being gay -- or even just talking about being gay," he said.
"There is no room in our 21st century for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity."
More than 70 countries worldwide still have laws on their books making homosexuality a crime.
In his remarks, Biden singled out Egypt, Russia and Uganda for anti-gay laws and where he said "arrests are on the rise".
Biden, the first high-ranking US official to endorse same-sex marriage, said ensuring the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people was "the civil rights issue of our time".
"No government, no society, no individual, no circumstance should attempt to dictate who you love," Biden told the meeting also attended by Chile's President Michelle Bachelet and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Almost 40 countries legally recognize same-sex couples, said Ban, who also praised Mozambique, Seychelles and Nauru for decriminalizing homosexuality this year.
"I ask those who use religious or cultural arguments to deprive LGBT people of their human rights: what do you gain by making others less equal?" Ban asked.
"Is your religion or culture so weak that the only way you can sustain it is by denying others their basic rights?"
Ban himself came under fire from many UN member-states including Russia when he decided in 2015 to extend benefits to the same-sex partners of UN employees.
In another breakthrough, the UN Human Rights Council has appointed the first-ever independent expert to report on LGBT violations worldwide.