In a landmark address, the United Nation’s first-ever independent expert investigating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity warned that LGBTQ people around the world are facing mounting human rights violations.
Speaking before the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, Vitit Muntarbhorn, whose position was created last June, presented his full report on the global challenges facing LGBTQ populations, including the criminalization of same-sex relations in more than 70 countries.
“LGBT people are suffering a crucible of egregious violations, including killings, rape, mutilation, torture, arbitrary detention, abduction, harassment, physical and mental assaults,” Muntarbhorn said in his address. “They are subjected to lashings and forced surgical interventions, bullying from a young age, incitement to hatred and pressures leading to suicide.”
Muntarbhorn called for all laws criminalizing same-sex relationships to be removed from statute books and said no other legal measures should be used to target sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression for the purpose of consolidating power and suppressing dissent.
Jessica Stern, executive director of global LGBTQ human rights organization OutRight Action International, called Muntarbhorn's address a "huge success" and said it marked "a big day in the world of LGBTI rights and international law."
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“The reason this mandate exists is because there is an acceleration of the attacks on LGBTI people," Stern said. “In the last month, we’ve seen mass arrests in Indonesia, Egypt, Tanzania, and we’re watching this grotesque registry unfolding in Tajikistan."
Stern noted some U.N. member states have been pushing back against Muntarbhorn’s mandate and opposing any decision that links sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to international human rights protections.
In a report posted to OutRight's website, the organization stated a delegate from Egypt addressed a committee of the U.N. General Assembly late last month claiming to speak on behalf of Belarus, Russia and 56 (of the 57) Organization of Islamic Cooperation States to speak out against Muntarbhorn's mandate.
“Our position on the matter is clear, that we do not recognize the mandate of the independent expert and therefore are not in a position to engage, interact or cooperate with the mandate holder," the delegate from Egypt said, according to OutRight.
Still, Stern remained optimistic about Muntarbhorn’s role and its impact on LGBTQ rights abroad.
“Japan delivered a statement of support [of Muntarbhorn], the only Asian state to speak out, which is very significant,” she said. “The LGBTI Core Group of the U.N. headquarters also delivered its first-ever joint statement today, and it’s beautiful.”
Muntarbhorn himself said the establishment of his position was a step in the right direction in calling for action against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“[The position] is anchored in international human rights law, and it is a momentous commitment to multilateralism,” he said. “It is an invitation to be forward looking and an incentive to move forward together.”
Stern said despite the bleak picture for LGBTQ rights around the world at the moment, Muntarbhorn’s presentation and the generally positive reception to it offered some hope.
“Most days we lose,” Stern told NBC News on Friday. “But today we won.”
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