• Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand, the freshly appointed Expert Investigator, gives a press conference at the UN office, on August 27, 2014 in Geneva. (AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI)Source: AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI
“[It] affirms that the right to be protected from violence and discrimination applies equally to LGBT people,” said Boris Dittrich, an LGBT rights advocate with the group.
Ben Winsor

23 Nov 2016 - 11:24 AM  UPDATED 23 Nov 2016 - 11:24 AM

African countries have failed in a bid to suspend the work of the first LGBT+ rights investigator to be appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The council, based in Geneva, appointed Thai human rights expert Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first ever ‘Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity’ in September.

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Earlier this month, the 54-nation African Group put forward a draft resolution at the UN in New York requesting the legality of the position be investigated and the appointment suspended.

A total of 73 countries still criminalise homosexuality, including 33 African states.

But the bid to suspend the appointment failed this week, with Latin American countries - supported by Western countries - succeeding with an amendment which gutted the African resolution.

Australia was among the countries that sponsored the amendment.

The final resolution – which ended up recognising the Human Rights Council position – was adopted with 84 countries supporting it and 77 voting against it, 17 abstained.

The countries that voted no included China, Russia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, with abstentions including Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Somalia, Philippines and India.

Those that voted yes included Japan, Australia, South Africa, Thailand, the Netherlands, Israel, Ukraine, the US and Turkey.

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Human Rights Watch said the vote was a victory for LGBT+ rights. 

“[It] affirms that the right to be protected from violence and discrimination applies equally to LGBT people,” said Boris Dittrich, an LGBT rights advocate with the group.

“It also respects the integrity of the Human Rights Council, as the UN’s top human rights body, to ensure that mechanisms are in place to protect rights not just in theory, but in practice,” he said.

The new Independent Expert, Vitit Muntarbhorn, said that LGBT+ people often faced a "vortex of violence and discrimination". 

"Future actions to overcome violence and discrimination should aim for decriminalisation, depathologisation, status recognition, cultural liberalisation, and empathisation through a human rights sensitive educational and socialisation process from childhood onwards," he said in his first public address

LGBT+ rights have been an increasingly divisive issue at the UN in recent years, as Western and Latin American countries – along with the UN Secretariat itself – have sought to advocate for LGBT rights through Human Rights frameworks.

Russia and Egypt, speaking as representatives of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, have said they will refuse to recognise the investigator.

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