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United Nations Independent Expert Consults with Civil Society

Post submitted by Jean Freedberg, Deputy Director, HRC Global

As one of his first actions since taking up his mandate as the United Nations (UN) Independent Expert for Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand held a two-day public consultation last month in Geneva. HRC has long advocated for the creation of this position and we were pleased to participate in the consultation by submitting a question.

In advance of the public consultation, his office put out a wide call for attendance and submissions to engage a variety of voices at the table. For those who could not attend in person, there was a live feed of the proceedings. Over the two days, the Independent Expert and his staff heard from a range of voices about issues that he should address. He answered dozens of questions from civil society organizations, including representatives from Mexico, Iran, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Georgia and the Netherlands.  Professor Muntarbhorn listened respectfully to all the questions and reiterated his commitment to continuing to consult widely, to learn from those he met along the way and to work with all those willing to work with him within his answers. As he said, “I come with the spirit of wanting to help.” He will issue his first report in March.

The position of Independent Expert was created by the UN Human Rights Council last June, and then survived a succession of efforts to undo it at the UN in New York. A selection committee appointed Professor Muntarbhorn to this unpaid position after a wide public search.

Recently, he delivered the keynote address at the bi-annual meeting of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) in Bangkok. In his speech, he outlined his proposed approach to his mandate. His work, he said, would rest on five pillars –  decriminalization of same sex sexual activity, de-pathologization of LGBTI people, status recognition of gender identity, gender-diverse cultural inclusion and creating a culture of empathy towards LGBTI people.

Photo: Edmund Settle