Vote establishing a SOGI Independent Expert “a turning point”

Geneva, 1 July 2016 – Yesterday, in a historic vote, the United Nations Human Rights Council has established an Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The decision - says the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) – is the result of the adoption of a resolution on “Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity”, which was presented by seven Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay.

The position of the Independent Expert, likely to be filled at the upcoming September session of the Human Rights Council, is tasked with bringing focused attention to the issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity worldwide, presenting analysis and reports, engaging with States and civil society, and formulating key recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council.

“We are delighted by this truly defining and game-changing result,” said Renato Sabbadini, Executive Director at ILGA. “This vote finally marks the creation of a dedicated mechanism at the international level to work for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in every region. And, the more these violations will be made visible and addressed, the harder it will be for States not to be held accountable for them.”

The resolution was passed by a vote of 23 in favour, 18 against and 6 abstentions, despite the adoption of seven of the 11 hostile amendments brought by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (without Albania) to dilute the resolution. Although these sought to introduce notions of cultural relativism into the text, the core of the resolution affirming the universal nature of international human rights remains intact.

“This vote is a powerful message asking the United Nations to redouble efforts to protect the rights of LGBT persons, and it is a message that comes from every corner of the world,” Sabbadini continues. “In addition to the seven States from Latin America, 41 countries from around the world co-sponsored the resolution. Even more impressively, an astonishing 628 NGOs from 151 countries supported the call to adopt the resolution, 70 percent of which are from the regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America.  We are grateful to them all: this is a truly global call, and a proof that attitudes are moving away from supporting blatant discrimination against LGBT individuals and towards acceptance.”

As a worldwide federation of almost 1,200 organisations ILGA has been working for many years at the United Nations advocating equal human rights for LGBTI people. In March, its executive board unanimously voted to support the establishment of a Special Procedure on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – such as the Independent Expert just established – at the UN Human Rights Council, as well as to continue to work on existing gaps in relation to sexual rights and intersex human rights.

ILGA, working in close cooperation with many NGOs from around the world, launched a campaign to get the resolution passed to make this a reality.

“This vote would not have been possible without the tireless work of hundreds of human rights defenders worldwide,” comment Ruth Baldacchino and Helen Kennedy, Co-Secretaries General at ILGA. “And, most importantly, this is a victory not only for the global LGBT community, but for many broader movements that push for the full realization of the human rights of all persons. As social movements, our agendas intersect just as our realities do: we believe that every step that has been taken in the recognition of the rights of a population that has historically been violated and discriminated against has been a breakthrough for all.”

This has already proven to be true in other contexts: “The experience to date both at the UN (in relation to other groups) and at the Organization of American States (in relation to LGBTI people), demonstrates clearly that a dedicated expert can make a significant difference to advancing human rights protection in relation to a specific group,” Baldacchino and Kennedy declare. “This vote will mark a turning point: even if the struggle towards equality is still far from over, we are a step closer to finally creating a world free of violence and discrimination for people on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

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