Second attempt to block UN’s LGBTI expert thwarted

Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn (Pic: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

Yet another attempt to block the United Nations’ Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) has failed.

In a tight vote on Monday at the UN General Assembly in New York City, states refused to support an attempt to “defer consideration of and action on” the new expert position.

The move targeted the SOGI Independent Expert by preposterously claiming that there is no legal basis for the position.

“ILGA is delighted that the mandate has once again been safeguarded,” said ILGA’s co-Secretaries General Helen Kennedy and Ruth Baldacchino. “Once more, states have reaffirmed the importance of monitoring human rights violations against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, a crucial leap towards a world where all are treated free and equal.”

The Independent Expert mandate was created last June by the UN Human Rights Council, and in September Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn was appointed for the role. An international law professor and a human rights expert, Muntarbhorn has already assumed office and commenced work as of 1st November 2016.

However, attempts to block his work began almost immediately. In November, a group of African states tabled a resolution to “allow time for further consultations to determine the legal basis” of the mandate.

Human rights defenders quickly mobilised to voice their concerns with a joint statement endorsed by almost 900 organisations from 157 countries around the world, leading the hostile initiative to a failure. South Africa was praised for voting against the African states in support of LGBTI equality.

Only a few weeks after states had chosen to safeguard the Independent Expert, this latest attempt was tabled at the General Assembly plenary – again, to no extent.

“We commend what human rights defenders from all over the world were able to do by highlighting the need for states to respect the authority of the Human Rights Council,” said André du Plessis, UN Programme and Advocacy Manager at ILGA.

“This outcome is important not only because it shows that states believe that violence and discrimination faced by LGBT persons around the world deserve attention, but also because it confirms the authority of the UN Human Rights Council, the leading human rights body in the world.”

According to Ilga, Monday’s vote has clearly shown that a majority of states support the mandate. While all 193 countries in the UN General Assembly had the right to vote, only 177 exercised their vote: 77 countries voted in favour of the resolution, 84 (including South Africa) voted against it, and 16 countries abstained from voting.

“The Independent Expert has already begun his important work,” commented Ruth Baldacchino and Helen Kennedy. “All we ask for is that this mandate be safeguarded and Prof. Muntarbhorn is left to continue his work without worrying that his mandate may be under attack.”

The SOGI Independent Expert is 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.

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