(Pic: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)
In a shock announcement, Vitit Muntarbhorn, the first UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, has resigned.
In a letter sent to the president of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Muntarbhorn said he was resigning for illness and family reasons, effective from 31 October.
“I have been unwell for the past few months and have also been hospitalised,” said Muntarbhorn. He explained that while he was now recovering, “a key member of my family / household is [also] ill and I am having to reduce my workload generally”.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) said it’s thoughts “are immediately with him and his family and we wish him health and support during what is no-doubt a difficult time”.
Muntarbhorn, an international law professor and a human rights expert, was controversially appointed to the position a year ago after a contentious battle between UN member states, including South Africa.
In June 2016, South Africa abstained in the landmark vote at the UNHRC in Geneva to create the global LGBTI watchdog position, a move seen as a betrayal of the LGBTI community and the country’s constitutional values.
Months later, following a wave of negative publicity against South Africa’s stance, it reversed its position and voted against two attempts by African countries to suspend the UN LGBTI expert.
Muntarbhorn, who was appointed for an initial but renewable three year period, produced two reports on violence against LGBTI people in the past year.
He also conducted a country visit to Argentina, engaged in consultations with governments, civil society and business, responded to LGBTI rights concerns in Honduras and Chechnya, and addressed women’s rights and trans and gender diverse children and adolescents.
The process for appointing his successor is expected to start in the coming days. It is hoped that a new appointee will be announced by December.