Posts Tagged 'Vitit Muntarbhorn'

Remarks opposing a UN General Assembly Amendment to Delay the Mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Amb. Samantha PowerAmbassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 19, 2016

AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Mr. President. The United States will vote “no” on the amendment proposed by the African Group to delay part of the report by the Human Rights Council, and we strongly encourage other countries to join us in rejecting this amendment.

You have heard, and may hear more, so-called procedural arguments made by other countries for adopting this amendment. These arguments are unsubstantiated, unjustified, and unprecedented.

The UN Human Rights Council currently has 57 mandate holders under special procedures – 43 on thematic issues, and 14 on countries or territories. Yet never before has the General Assembly sought to challenge a special procedures mandate holder after it has been appointed and is fully functioning.

The supporters of this amendment say that they have concerns about what they call the “legal basis” for the mandate for the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. On the surface, raising concerns about one out of the more than a hundred resolutions adopted this year by the Human Rights Council may not seem like such a big deal. But for the General Assembly to seek to open the Human Rights Council’s report over the contents of a single resolution – a resolution creating a mandate that is squarely within the Council’s authority – would set a hugely problematic precedent.

In previous years, the purpose of this General Assembly resolution has been simply to “take note” of the Human Rights Council’s annual report. Were this amendment to be adopted, it would, going forward, be fair game for the General Assembly to open up and re-litigate resolutions that have long history of going into effect immediately. That would undermine the authority, the independence, and the efficiency of the Human Rights Council.

In addition to setting this dangerous procedural precedent, this amendment is deeply flawed on the merits. The proponents of the amendment argue in their explanatory note that their reason for seeking a delay was that, “there is no international agreement on the definition of the concept of ‘sexual orientation and gender identity.’” That is patently false. The issue of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well established and well understood. It has been referred to in resolutions and statements adopted by the Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly. It has been the focus of nearly 1,300 recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review, leading to recommendations that have been accepted by more than 100 UN Member States, including several of the countries that proposed this amendment. And it has been addressed repeatedly by various regional bodies, including the Organization of American States, the European Court of Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights.

In reality, this amendment has little to do with questions around the definition of sexual orientation and gender identity. Instead, this amendment is rooted in a real disagreement over whether people of a certain sexual orientation and gender identity are, in fact, entitled to equal rights. And it is being driven by a group of UN Member States that believe it is acceptable to treat people differently because of who they are or who they love.

For our part, the United States believes that discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity is no different from discriminating against people for the color of their skin, for discriminating against them because of their sex, or because of their nationality. It is wrong. Such discrimination cuts against the very essence of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is not an issue of the North trying to impose its values on the South; it is an issue of respecting the dignity and human rights of all people, everywhere. That is what we mean when we say that LGBTI rights are universal human rights.

The United States also believes that the resolution creating the Independent Expert to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well-merited by the facts on the ground. For who here today would argue that LGBTI people are treated equally around their world, or that they are not subject to violence and discrimination? Nobody can argue that on the basis of the facts. This is a world we live in which, according to a report issued in 2015 by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “the overall picture remains one of continuing, pervasive, violent abuse, harassment, and discrimination affecting LGBT and intersex persons in all regions…often perpetrated with impunity.” A world today in which it is still considered acceptable in certain places to throw people off of the rooftops of buildings, or to prevent them from forming a local organization, or to deny them a seat in a classroom – simply because of who they are or who they love. In that world – in our world, the world of today – we have every reason to want an independent expert to monitor and seek to prevent violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

That includes addressing the issue right here in the United States. For while LGBTI people no longer have to hide who they love to serve in our nation’s military or our Foreign Service – people in the United States can still be fired from a job because of their sexual orientation, and an estimated four in every 10 transgender people in America attempt suicide – approximately 30 times the national average. We, too, have seen our share of horrific violence against LGBT people. As many of you will remember, on June 12 of this year, a gunman attacked innocent civilians at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 innocent people. These individuals were targeted simply because they were LGBT people.

Let me close. One of the victims in that attack was 32-year-old Christopher Leinonen, who, as a teenager, was brave enough to be the only student to come out of the closet in his high school of 2,500 people. Christopher endured taunts, harassments, and even threats for telling people who he was and for founding his school’s first gay-straight alliance.

Tell me, why would any Member State stand in the way of trying to prevent violence like the attack at that Orlando nightclub?

If you believe that people should not be discriminated against, or harassed, or attacked, or killed for who they are and for who they love, please join the United States in voting against this amendment. Thank you.

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Related Content: 

U.N. committee again rejects motion to suspend LGBT watchdog (Washington Blade)

African States Narrowly Fail to Stop UN Gay Rights Envoy Work (Voice of America VOA)

SOGI Mandate Safeguarded in Face of Hostility

Joint Civil Society Press Statement
21 November 2016 (New York) — The United Nations mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) has been safeguarded despite hostile contestation at the 71st Session of the 3rd Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City.
LGBTIQ activists and organizations around the world quickly mobilized to voice their concerns on the implications of the hostile resolution to national governments as well as at the United Nations headquarters in New York. A joint statement endorsed by 850 organizations from 157 countries around the world, highlighted the need for states to respect the authority of the Human Rights Council and to vote in favour of upholding the SOGI Independent Expert mandate.
“A lot can be accomplished when forces join hands. We are encouraged by this voting result and in the confirmation that States believe in the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council. It is vital that the integrity of the Human Rights Council remains intact and is not further undermined in the Third Committee,” stated Jessica Stern, Executive Director, OutRight Action International, the only US based LGBTIQ organization with consultative status at the United Nations.
The SOGI Independent Expert position on the “Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity (SOGI),” was mandated by the passing of a historic resolution A/HRC/RES/32/2 on June 30 of this year, and is held by Vitit Muntarbhorn, a human rights expert from Thailand. A campaign of 628 nongovernmental organizations from 151 countries advocated for the adoption of the resolution and for the establishment of the position.
In early November, Botswana, on behalf of the African Group, presented a hostile resolution on the Human Rights Council Annual Report, specifically targeting the SOGI Independent Expert Mandate. The resolution contested the legality of the creation of the mandate, essentially arguing that SOGI are not universally recognized as human rights and are not codified in international law. The resolution called for an indefinite postponement of the mandate until consensus could be reached on the definition of SOGI and the legal basis to which the mandate was created, the African Group statement read,
“We are alarmed that the Council is delving into matters which fall essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of States counter to the commitment in the United Nations Charter to respect the sovereignty of States and the principle of non-intervention. More importantly, it arises owing to the ominous usage of the two notions: sexual orientation and gender identity. We wish to state that those two notions are not and should not be linked to existing international human rights instruments.”
In response to the African Group resolution, submitted by Botswana, Monica Tabengwa, Botswana human rights activist and director of Pan Africa ILGA commented,
“We are deeply disappointed that Botswana led this fallacious move by the Africa Group to remove gains at the HRC to include SOGI protections within the existing human rights framework. Let us remind everyone that the SOGI mandate is about real people and their right to secure lives, to be free of violence and discrimination and that these lives can’t be postponed or deferred indefinitely. We deserve more from our governments”
The SOGI Independent Expert was created after adoption of a resolution in the Human Rights Council in June 2016, initiated by seven Latin American countries, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay. They, plus El Salvador (LAC 8), countered the African Group’s attempt to postpone the mandate by introducing an amendment to the resolution deleting the hostile paragraph.
An explanatory note provided by the eight Latin American countries on their submitted amendment in support of preserving the SOGI mandate and the integrity of the HRC reads,
“The seriousness of the consequences (…) lies in the fact that never before has a country or group of countries attempted to challenge a special procedures mandate by the Human Rights Council with an appointed and fully functioning mandate holder. (…) If the General Assembly reopens the Council’s annual report and use a selective approach to which resolution it seeks to block or defer indefinitely it would fundamentally undermine the authority granted to the Council by the General Assembly, thus having far reaching implications well beyond the specific resolution under consideration.”
While all 193 countries in the UN General Assembly had the right to vote, only 178 exercised their vote, resulting in the passing of the LAC 8 amendment, leading to the failure of the hostile resolution and dissipation of the immediate threat against the establishment of the SOGI Independent Expert. In total, 84 countries voted in favor of the LAC 8 amendment, 77 voted against the amendment, and 17 countries abstained from voting.
LGBTIQ civil society in the Asia and the Pacific region have vocalized their support for the SOGI Independent Expert, hoping that a representative from the region would help progress protections for people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. In response to the voting, Ryan Silverio, Regional Coordinator for the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus said,
“Today we are reminded of the fundamental mission of the Council, and the UN’s commitment to promote human rights and equality for all. We are encouraged by the open dialogue with ASEAN member states in the lead up of the vote, and are particularly thankful to Thailand for showing leadership to protecting this mandate,”
The failure of the proposed hostile resolution is significant not only because it reinstates the authority of the Human Rights Council, but it also allows forward movement on the work of the SOGI Independent Expert- a crucial stride in the UN’s commitment towards protecting the universality of human rights, especially for vulnerable communities. It reinforces the notion that people cannot be left behind and states must protect all people from discrimination and violence based on their SOGI.
“The SOGI Independent Expert position is vital in bringing to light the horrific acts of violence and discrimination many people face because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These abuses happen everywhere; no region or country is immune to them. Having concrete documentation showing the consequences of homophobia and transphobia on the lives of people and recommendations on how to address these challenges from an HRC Special Procedure mandate holder will help states take responsibility to protect LGBTQI persons. It will be much harder to ignore the facts,” commented Micah Grzywnowicz, trans activist and international advocacy advisor at RFSL, the Swedish Federation for LGBTQ Rights.
While the hostile resolution did not pass today, civil society has warned that future attempts to stop the progress of the SOGI Independent Expert are not out of the question.
The Expert will be tasked with assessing implementation of existing international human rights law, identifying best practices and gaps, raising awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, engaging in dialogue and consultation with States and other stakeholders, and facilitating provision of advisory services, technical assistance, capacity-building and cooperation to help address violence and discrimination on these grounds.
“As always, the fight continues to ensure that States don’t cherry pick which human rights to protect. We must continue to be vigilant and to mobilize to ensure that universality and non-discrimination triumphs at all levels. We must also ensure that we are working together to create change which will benefit all LGBTIQ people. Safeguarding human rights principles remains prime to peace and security for all people everywhere, anytime,” said Steve Letsike, Director of Access Chapter 2, a South African LGBTIQ human rights organization.

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