Victory as UN renews LGBTIQ watchdog role

Victor Madrigal-Borloz the UN Independent Expert on SOGI

South Africa is among the countries that voted to renew the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

On Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva adopted a resolution to renew the position in a vote of 27 countries in favour, 12 against and 7 abstaining. The council also voted against 10 hostile amendments that sought to limit or change the role of the expert.

More than 1,300 non-governmental organisations from 174 states and territories campaigned for the UNHRC to pass the resolution.

The UN expert is tasked with assessing the implementation of international human rights law on sexual orientation and gender identity; raising awareness of violence and discrimination suffered by LGBTI communities; engaging in dialogue and cooperating with states to implement measures; and providing advice and technical assistance where needed.

The role of the UN Independent Expert on SOGI was created in June 2016 amidst some controversy. South Africa infamously abstained in the landmark vote to back the global LGBTIQ watchdog position, a move that was seen as a betrayal of 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 mainly African nations to suspend the LGBTIQ watchdog.

On Friday, South Africa was among those countries – including Australia, Brazil, Cuba, Italy, Mexico, Rwanda, Spain, Tunisia, and the UK – that supported the renewal of the important role.

Those that opposed it included nations that have anti-LGBTQ legislation and/or traditionally reject monitoring of their repressive laws or policies: Afghanistan, Bahrain, China, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia.

The current UN Independent Expert on SOGI is Victor Madrigal-Borloz, a Costa-Rican jurist, who was appointed in December 2017.

In a tweet, he congratulated the states and groups that supported the resolution. “I am as humbled and determined as the first day to continue at your side in this, the journey of a lifetime,” said Madrigal-Borloz.

“This is another historic victory, not only for communities of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, but for humanity as a whole,” commented Paula Sebastiao of Arquivo de Identidade Angolano in Angola and Simran Shaikh, Asia coordinator of the Trans Respect v. Transphobia project, on behalf of 60 human rights groups worldwide.

“Following the call from a record number of organisations from every region imaginable, the UN Human Rights Council has reaffirmed its commitment to combat discrimination and violence on grounds of SOGI and has reminded all states of their obligations towards these communities,” they said.

“The extraordinary work of hundreds of human rights defenders and grassroots organisations from all over the world is what made today’s historic result possible,” added Tuisina Ymania Brown and Luz Elena Aranda, Co-Secretaries General at ILGA World.

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