Despite SA’s shameful abstention, UN expert on LGBTI rights is appointed

Vitit Muntarbhorn

Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn

The appointment of Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity has been welcomed by human rights groups.

In June, South Africa shocked the LGBTI community when it chose to abstain in the vote at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to create the global LGBTI watchdog position.

On Friday, it was announced that the position has now been filled by Muntarbhorn, a Thai international law professor who has served on a number of UN bodies.

Professor Muntarbhorn was Co-Chairperson of the drafting committee of the Yogyakarta Principles (on sexual orientation and gender identity) in 2006 and has worked with many entities over the years on human rights issues.

“We see Professor Muntarbhorn as having the expertise and skills needed for this challenging and exciting role,” commented André du Plessis, ILGA’s UN Programme and Advocacy Manager. “Not only has he worked with national human rights commissions, the Thai Ministry of Justice and NGOs on this issue, but he has commanded respect in the UN system on many other issues.”

Muntarbhorn – appointed for an initial but renewable three year period – is now tasked with assessing the implementation of existing international human rights law in this area, raising awareness of violence and discrimination suffered by LGBT persons, engaging in dialogue and cooperating with States to implement measures, and providing advice and technical assistance where needed.

“Never has there been a more urgent need to safeguard the human rights of LGBTI persons around the world,” said Renato Sabbadini, Executive Director of ILGA. “Attacked, discriminated against, targeted and invisibilised, our communities need an ally like Professor Muntarbhorn.”

The appointment was also applauded by Human Rights Watch, with its Geneva Director, John Fisher, stating that, “It will bring much-needed attention to human rights violations against LGBT people in all regions of the world”.

The South African government has still not clearly explained why it did not support the vote to create the Independent Expert in June.

Just before the vote, South Africa’s ambassador, Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, lashed out at the countries that sponsored the resolution. She accused them of being “arrogant and confrontational”, of “grandstanding, recklessness, brinkmanship and point scoring” and of adding “divisive dimensions” to the UNHRC.

South African activists accused Mxakato-Diseko of acting unconstitutionally and of taking a stand against the alleged behaviour of certain countries at the UNHRC at the cost of LGBTI lives. The vote was ultimately passed by 23 countries and rejected by 18, with six abstentions.

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