UN Makes History on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In a defining vote, the United Nations Human Rights Council has mandated the appointment of an Independent Expert on the “protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity”. It is a historic victory for the human rights of all persons who are at risk of discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, 28 human rights groups said today. This resolution builds upon two previous resolutions, adopted by the Council in 2011 and 2014.

The resolution was narrowly won by a vote of 23 in favor, 18 against and 6 abstentions.

The UN Indépendant Expert on SOGI will contribute significantly by:

1. Addressing protection on these and related issues within the UN system, by allowing more detailed exploration of the situation of specific populations, specific patterns of violations and between human rights violation based on SOGI and on other ground, including looking at the root causes of why such violence and discrimination take place

2. Encouraging more effective responses by Governments, the UN and other stakeholders about SOGI issues 

3. Engaging in constructive dialogue with States and other stakeholders, and bringing greater clarity to the application of international human rights norms and standards in relation to SOGI.

“Something that I’m excited by about this resolution is that it is a one more step towards affirming the universality of human rights for LGBTI+ people cementing the  SOGI issues within the UN Human Rights Council ” says Kiwi social advocacy powerhouse Aych McArdle who was part of proceedings leading up to the mandate.

“We have seen great progress made over the last 10 years with the Universal Periodic Review with 150 countries accepting recommendations on SOGI when their country was reviewed. One criticism of this is that a country would receive recommendations and agree in principal with the suggestions but the barriers to implementing these changes is perceived to be too great in many instances. This new mechanism of an Independent Expert will be able to provide technical assistance to states and hopefully offer some of the “how” in implementing these recommendations as investigating allegations of discrimination and violence on the basis of SOGI.”

“This is truly momentous,” said Micah Grzywnowicz from the Swedish Federation for LGBTQ Rights, RFSL. “This is our opportunity to bring international attention to specific violations and challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming persons in all regions. It’s time for international community to take responsibility to ensure that persons at risk of violence and discrimination because of gender identity are not left behind.”

The positive vote responds to a joint campaign of a record 628 nongovernmental organizations from 151 countries calling on the Council to adopt the resolution and create the SOGI Independent Expert.

“To have an Independent Expert can be a ‘game-changer’ in counter-acting violence which fuels the HIV epidemic in key populations and more specifically in LGBT communities,” said Alain Kra of Espace Confiance.

“As part of my training with the International Service for Human Rights in the Human Rights Defenders Advocacy Programme we had time each week to work on individual or thematic advocacy at the Human Rights Council. It was pretty surreal to go from an intensive workshop on the Special Procedures of the UN (the mechanism within which this resolution will sit), to meeting Special Rapporteurs (the experts who investigate concerns and allegations), to directly lobbying diplomats and governments to vote in favour of this resolution” says Aych.

“We need to put pressure on the mechanisms of the UN to keep all conversations and actions on discrimination and violence intersectional in nature, realising that the discrimination and violence that persons face on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is of course also fundamentally linked with other forms of discriminatory repression: on the basis of HIV status, disability, race, occupation, sex, gender, class, language and many others. Understanding and addressing the root causes of discrimination and oppression of all persons is at the core of any response.”

The UN Human Rights Council say that they hope that this resolution will mark a turning point in the struggle to create a world free from violence and discrimination for all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.