Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, UN IE SOGI, Nov 30, 2016.: Opportunities for the Human Rights of All Persons in a World of Gender Diversity

The quantum leap of the world community to set up a mechanism, a new UN mandate - the United Nations Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (UN IE SOGI), advances the global agenda to "Leave No one Behind" and to protect the human rights of all persons, irrespective of their state or status. It is an invitation to all of us to open our hearts and minds to the beauty of diversity, no less in regard to SOGI: A World of Gender Diversity. In this regard, I must thank profoundly the great work done by the vast number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), communities, governments and other actors worldwide to make the new mandate a reality. Giving voice to our global message: Treat people decently, respectfully, kindly, humanely whatever their origins, our origins.

The mandate of the UN IE SOGI, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016, is thematic and covers the globe. The Independent Expert is appointed for a three year term, renewable once, and monitors the situation on behalf of the UN, submitting reports to the UN in Geneva and New York under the mandate. He/she can also take complaints from victims and act on their behalf by issuing urgent appeals and letters of allegations to the concerned authorities, thereby exercising leverage and pressure for compliance with international human rights law. This is complemented by field visits to countries to enable lessons learned from the ground to be shared in the global setting. It should be added that the expert is not a UN employee but a pro bono person, acting independently and objectively in assessing the situation, under the UN umbrella.

At the heart of the discourse is particularly the principle of non-discrimination underlined by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and developed by international human rights law and practice. As evidenced by the application of the wide range of international human rights treaties, international human rights bodies and procedures, ranging from the human rights treaty bodies, their general comments and recommendations, the Universal Period Review of the UN, the coverage by the UN Special Procedures in regard to SOGI related violations, and UN resolutions and studies on SOGI, the international human rights system has been strengthening the promotion and protection of the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people progressively. The protection of persons based on their SOGI and the mandate of the UN Independent Expert are based on International Law, complemented and supplemented by State practice.

The establishment of the UN mandate on SOGI enhances the opportunities offered by the global adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. In particular, the SDGs target an end to violence and discrimination in the timeframe of 2015-2030. Importantly, resolute action is required to stop the violence and discrimination affecting not only LGBTI communities but also the human rights defenders working with them. This goes hand in hand with the broader aspirations of human rights, freedoms, democracy, and peaceful and inclusive society.

The following linchpins direct our actions towards the future, calling for a broad global partnership:

- Decriminalization: abrogate laws which criminalize consensual same sex conduct and which criminalize transgender people based on their appearance; pending their reform, desist from applying these laws; and adopt a moratorium accordingly;

- Depathologization: reform the classification of LGBTI people as suffering from illness/ disorder; work with the medical, scientific and other sectors to delist LGBTI people from such classification; and end the practice of so-called "aversion" therapy/"conversion" therapy (wrongly) aimed at changing LGBT peoples' orientation and identity;

- Status recognition: affirm in law and practice the right of people to have their gender identity recognized on official and other documents; discard the conditions that they must undergo surgery, treatment, divorce, sterilization or medical certification before they can change their legal gender; and overcome bureaucratic hurdles in official and other circles on this front;

- Gender-diverse cultural inclusion: identify and disseminate all-inclusive interpretations of religion and other beliefs with space for gender diversity; work with religious, political, community and opinion leaders to advocate respect for and protection of LGBTI people; and enable LGBTI people to associate and participate fully in family life and societal change;

- Empathization: promote a human rights sensitive and less binary (or non-binary) educational and socialization process to address violence and discrimination from childhood onwards; prevent bullying from a young age; and involve teachers, parents, communities, and children/youth in nurturing an understanding of SOGI which is all-embracing.


Vitit Muntarbhorn is Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. He is currently UN Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. This is an excerpt from his Keynote speech at the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) World Conference, Bangkok, opening session, 30 November 2016.

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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