UN General Assembly (Pic UN News)
South Africa has voted to uphold the recent creation of an LGBTI watchdog by the UN Human Rights Council.
In September, the council appointed Vitit Muntarbhorn, an international law professor, as the UN Independent Expert to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
African countries at the UN then proposed a General Assembly resolution to suspend the expert to allow for more time for consultations.
In response, a number of Latin American nations put forward an amendment to remove the proposal to suspend the expert. On Monday, the amendment was successfully adopted by 84 to 77, with 17 abstentions, in the General Assembly’s human rights committee.
Botswana’s representative, on behalf of the African Group, said before the vote that the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” were not enshrined in international law, and that the independent expert mandate lacked the required specificity to be carried out fairly.
Despite fears that South Africa would support the Africa Group in the standoff, the country stuck to its human rights obligations and voted against other African nations in favour of the amendment.
The representative of South Africa explained that his position was a principled one based on the country’s constitution.
The issue at hand was a sensitive one, he said. After years of painful struggle, black and white, “straight and not straight”, South Africa had come together to bury discrimination once and for all. South Africa would fight discrimination everywhere, every time, he asserted.
On the matter at hand, he disagreed with most others on the African continent, noting that South Africa was still healing wounds caused by discrimination and would not add fresh ones. He explained that South Africa would vote based on its constitutional imperative.
Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn
The defeat of the Africa Group’s resolution is not only a victory for LGBTI rights but for human rights in general; there were concerns that should it have passed, it would have undermined the independence of the UN Human Rights Council.
“The Third Committee’s vote affirms that the right to be protected from violence and discrimination applies equally to LGBT people,” said 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,” he said.
The matter will be voted on again by the full General Assembly next month, but the outcome is not expected to change Monday’s decision.