“Persecution and discrimination based on sexual orientation is, unfortunately, still pervasive,” Mark Malloch Brown, head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), says in a message prepared for the event put together by the UN Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Employees Organization (GLOBE). “Discrimination based on sexual orientation not only violates basic human rights, but also hinders development by immobilizing human capital, stifling expression and limiting freedom of choice,” Mr. Malloch Brown says in his written message, which was released ahead of the event because he could not attend. He adds that many governments are taking progressive action on these issues, while, within the UN system, the issue of domestic partnership is being reviewed. The UNDP chief also welcomes the panel discussion as an “excellent opportunity to highlight what has been done and challenge us all to do more, both within the UN system and throughout the world.” Echoing those sentiments, Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), calls the subject of the panel “groundbreaking,” in another written message issued today. “I applaud efforts to defeat all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to promote the issue of domestic partnership,” he says. “Homophobia continues to have a devastating impact on individuals, communities and societies today,” Dr. Piot says, stressing that equal rights for all, along with the fight against AIDS, were two of the “most pressing issues of our time.” He adds that persecution of sexual minorities, including imprisonment and torture, is all too common. Dr. Piot also notes that homophobia plays a crucial role in contributing to the spread of HIV infection among gay men by undermining and discouraging vital HIV/AIDS prevention efforts aimed at empowering vulnerable groups. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to attend the discussion, which will be held at the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium.