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LGBT rights supporters win at UN, division remains

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

LGBT rights supporters succeeded in November in safeguarding the position and work of the first-ever U.N. Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

This expert is responsible for investigating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — SOGI in U.N.-speak.

The position was mandated June 30 with the passage of a historic resolution.

But in November, Botswana, on behalf of the African Group, presented what LGBT rights advocates termed a “hostile resolution” targeting the mandate for the post. The group referred to the “ominous usage” of the two “notions” of sexual orientation and gender identity, arguing that SOGI are not and should not be linked to human rights.

In response, human rights advocates around the world mobilized to express concern for the African nations’ proposal. A joint statement endorsed by 850 organizations from 157 countries stated the need to respect the authority of the Human Rights Council and to vote to uphold the independent expert mandate.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, a human rights expert from Thailand, holds the post.

He will be tasked with:

• Assessing implementation of existing international human rights law.

• Identifying best practices and gaps.

• Raising awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

• Engaging in dialogue and consultation with states and other stakeholders.

Broad-based effort

A campaign by 628 non-governmental organizations from 151 countries advocated for the establishment of the position.

Seven Latin American countries — Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay — initiated the adoption of the mandate for the post. These countries, plus El Salvador, successfully countered the attempt to postpone the mandate with an amendment to the African Group’s resolution.

“The SOGI independent expert position is vital in bringing to light the horrific acts of violence and discrimination many people face because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Micah Grzywnowicz, a transgender activist and international advocacy adviser at RFSL, the Swedish Federation for LGBTIQ Rights. “These abuses happen everywhere — no region or country is immune to them.”

“A lot can be accomplished when forces join hands,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, the only U.S.-based LGBT organization with consultative status at the United Nations.

Stern added, “We are encouraged by this voting result and in the confirmation that states believe in the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council. It is vital that the integrity of the Human Rights Council remains intact and is not further undermined.”