Despite opposition from a number of countries in Africa, the Middle East, China and Russia, on Nov. 21, the United Nations voted to keep its independent expert on gender identity and sexual orientation, Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand (pictured above). Opposing nations challenged the role’s validity and attempted to remove it.
The position had been created in June, and Muntarbhorn was appointed just this past September. He is tasked with “[assessing] implementation of existing international human rights law, [identifying] best practices and gaps, [raising] awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and [engaging] in dialogue and consultation with countries and other stakeholders.”
Nearly 900 nongovernmental organizations from more than 150 countries called on the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee—made up of all member countries—to take a principled stand that LGBT rights are human rights. Language by the African countries wanted to stop Muntarbhorn from working until the UN debated the mandate’s “legal basis.”
“The Third Committee’s vote affirms that the right to be protected from violence and discrimination applies equally to LGBT people,” says Boris Dittrich, LGBT rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “It also respects the integrity of the Human Rights Council, as the UN’s top human rights body, to ensure that mechanisms are in place to protect rights not just in theory, but in practice.”
Botswana Ambassador Charles Ntwaagae, one who challenged the role’s validity, argued that the UN’s Human Rights Council is delving into national matters and is attempting to focus on citizens “on the grounds of their sexual interests and behaviors” while ignoring discrimination based on color, race, sex or religion.
That led American Deputy Ambassador Sarah Mendelson to say that the Human Rights Council has actually approved many resolutions on violence and discrimination against other minorities, not just LGBTs.
The final vote of the UN’s Human Rights Committee was 84-77 with 12 abstentions to keep a role working on LGBTI rights.
Currently, more than 75 countries around the world have laws criminalizing LGBTs.
(Photo via United Nations)