International

Anti-LGBT nations seek to end U.N. advocacy of LGBT rights

Vitit Muntarbhorn (Photo courtesy of the Bangkok Post)

The role of Vitit Muntarbhorn as the U.N.’s LGBT rights watchdog is in jeopardy. (Photo courtesy of the Bangkok Post)

A confrontation over LGBT rights is expected to come to a head tomorrow at the United Nations. [Editor’s note: That scheduled vote has been delayed. See: “Opposition and delay confront anti-LGBT push at U.N.”]

At issue is last June’s vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council to hire a watchdog to investigate violations of LGBT rights.

In September, Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand  was selected to fill that position.

Opponents of LGBT rights have arranged for a vote tomorrow in the U.N. General Assembly that in effect, if successful, would reverse the Human Rights Council’s action. The Human Rights Council, which operates independently, has never been subjected to such an intervention by the General Assembly.

BuzzFeed reported:

The UN’s New LGBT Rights Watchdog May Be About To Lose His Job

The full membership of the United Nations is due to vote Tuesday on a resolution designed to torpedo a newly created position for a watchdog on LGBT rights.

The position is formally known as an “independent expert” and has a mandate to monitor “violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” The office was created in June by a vote of the Human Rights Council.

The full membership of the United Nations is due to vote Tuesday on a resolution designed to torpedo a newly created position for a watchdog on LGBT rights.

The position is formally known as an “independent expert” and has a mandate to monitor “violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” The office was created in June by a vote of the Human Rights Council, whose members are appointed by the General Assembly but operates independently. In September, the council’s president announced the position would be filled by Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Thai law professor who has previously served as special rapporteur on North Korea and is a commissioner on the Independent International Commission of inquiry on Syria.

Supporters of the independent expert position — also called a “mandate” in UN lingo — say Tuesday’s planned vote is more than an effort to prevent LGBT rights from being considered as a human rights issue at the UN. It represents an unprecedented effort to politicize a human rights issue in a way that could weaken the whole framework for safeguarding human rights in the international system. …

The resolution to be voted on Tuesday was introduced into the General Assembly by Sierra Leone on behalf of the Group of African States. The proposal’s text technically proposes to “defer consideration” of the Human Rights Council’s resolution creating the LGBT watchdog “in order to allow time for further consultations to determine the legal basis” for the position. …

Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT program for Human Rights Watch

Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT program for Human Rights Watch

The language in the resolution questioning the “legal basis” for creating an LGBT watchdog is especially “insidious,” added Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Program Director Graeme Reid, because “the implication is that LGBT rights don’t belong in the human rights system at all.” Only a handful of UN resolutions mention LGBT issues, and LGBT rights opponents contend that sexual orientation and gender identity are not matters covered by international law.

If it passes, it could set up a complicated showdown between the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Vitit Muntarbhorn has already taken up the position, and it is not clear that this resolution would put a halt to his work even if it passes. Neither Muntarbhorn nor a spokesperson for the presidency of the Human Rights Commission responded to requests for comment for this story.

And the resolution stands a very good chance of passing. The resolution was introduced by the 54-member Africa Group without any dissenting members. That group includes South Africa, which introduced the first LGBT rights resolution in the Human Rights Council in 2011 but withheld its support for the creation of the LGBT watchdog position. The resolution is also assumed to have the support of almost every nation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — which would add at least 20 additional votes for the resolution. (Albania is the only member of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation that supports the LGBT watchdog position.) Russia and Belarus have also been leading opponents of efforts to promote LGBT rights inside the UN.

The resolution only needs a simple majority — or 97 votes — to pass. …

The LGBT rights advocacy group ARC International faulted South Africa for signing a letter supporting the resolution:

A South African somersault: From defending LGBT rights to denying them?

… The letter by the African Group, which has been surprisingly signed onto by South Africa, departs sharply from the South African Constitution’s commitment to universal human rights. …

South Africa’s endorsement of this letter betrays its anti apartheid history, its constitution and its own actions on the international stage supportive of LGBT rights, for the following reasons:

Firstly, the notions of sexual orientation and gender identity [SOGI] are not notions outside international law. The principle of universality of rights and the principle of non-discrimination on any status are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the ICCPR [the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights0.

Secondly, the attempt to pit the right to development and the anti racism agenda against the SOGI mandate intentionally ignores the fact that the SOGI mandate is envisaged as an intersectional mandate. In a preambular paragraph, the mandate is tasked with ‘Undertaking to support its broad and balanced agenda, and to strengthen the mechanisms addressing issues of importance, including fighting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in all their forms’. …

Thirdly, the use of notions of sovereignty of states and non intervention to block the mandate, willfully misunderstands the role of the Independent Expert. The Independent Expert as per his mandate in resolution 30/2 is expected to ‘assess the implementation of existing international human rights laws and standards’, ‘to raise awareness of violence and discrimination against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity’, ‘to engage in dialogue and consult with States and other relevant Stakeholders’, ‘to work in cooperation with States in order to foster the implementation of measures that contribute to the protection of all persons against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity’. …

Fourthly, the call for suspension of the mandate is an unprecedented step of blocking the work of the Human Right Council. To aim to suspend the working of a duly appointed mandate holder is to cast a spanner in the delicate machinery of the institutional architecture of international human rights institutions. …

For more information, read the full articles in BuzzFeed (“The UN’s New LGBT Rights Watchdog May Be About To Lose His Job”) and the ARC International blog (“A South African somersault: From defending LGBT rights to denying them?”).

June’s votes by Human Rights Council members on appointing an LGBT rights watchdog:

IN FAVOR: Albania, Belgium, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Macedonia, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, UK, Venezuela, Viet Nam

OPPOSED: Algeria, Bangladesh, Burundi, China, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Morocco, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Togo, United Arab Emirates

ABSTAINED: Botswana, Ghana, India, Namibia, Philippines, South Africa

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4 thoughts on “Anti-LGBT nations seek to end U.N. advocacy of LGBT rights

  1. Pingback: Opposition and delay confront anti-LGBT push at U.N. | 76 CRIMES

  2. Pingback: Anti-LGBTI push at U.N. falls short | 76 CRIMES

  3. Pingback: U.N. rejects renewed attempt to block LGBT expert | 76 CRIMES

  4. Pingback: South Africa’s Opposition to LGBTI Watchdog | Ius Gentium

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