(NEW YORK. 19 December 2016) – Yet another attempt to block the United Nations mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) has been halted today at the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly plenary in New York City.
In a tight vote, States refused to support an attempt to “defer consideration of and action on” the new expert position- a move that had targeted the SOGI Independent Expert by preposterously claiming that there would be no legal basis for it.
“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 at the Third Committee to “allow time for further consultations to determine the legal basis” of the mandate. Human rights defenders quickly mobilized to voice their concerns with a joint statement endorsed by almost 900 organizations from 157 countries around the world, leading the hostile initiative to a failure. Only a few weeks after States had chosen to safeguard the Independent Expert, this further 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,” explains 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. Never before had a country or group of countries attempted to challenge a special procedures mandate by the Human Rights Council with a fully functioning mandate holder. If the General Assembly would have reopened the Council’s annual report to block or defer resolutions with a selective approach, it would have fundamentally undermined the authority granted to the Council by the General Assembly, setting a dangerous precedent for the whole human rights framework.”
Today’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 favor of the resolution, 84 voted against it, and 16 countries abstained from voting.
“The Independent Expert has already begun his important work,” comment Ruth Baldacchino and Helen Kennedy. “We recently had the pleasure to host him as a keynote speaker at the ILGA World Conference, an event that gathered more than 700 LGBTI human rights defenders and allies from 101 different countries, and we have personally witnessed his commitment to bring forward a message of equality: 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.
“As we had the pleasure to witness during our World Conference, we are confident that the SOGI Independent Expert will work to build bridges, rather than to widen the gaps between our communities and those who think that we are seeking ‘special rights’,” commented Renato Sabbadini, Executive Director at ILGA. “Now more than ever, our communities need allies to ensure that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,’ as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states, is a reality and not only a dream.”