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UN appoints first-ever Human Rights LGBT Watchdog
Vitit Muntarbhorn has been named the first U.N. LGBT rights watchdog. (Photo courtesy of the U.N.)
Vitit Muntarbhorn has been named the first U.N. LGBT rights watchdog. (Photo courtesy of the U.N.)

The U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday announced it has appointed the U.N.’s first-ever independent expert who will specifically investigate anti-LGBT discrimination and violence around the world.

Vitit Muntarbhorn is an international law professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

Muntarbhorn has been a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria since 2012. He has also served as special U.N. rapporteurs on North Korea and child prostitution and pornography.

Muntarbhorn co-chaired the 2006 meeting that led to the adoption of the Yogyakarta Principles, a set of recommendations on the application of international human rights law to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Paisarn Likhitpreechakul of the Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice, a Thai LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade that Muntarbhorn was among those who urged Thailand to oppose efforts to remove “sexual orientation” from a 2010 U.N. resolution on extrajudicial killings.

Likhitpreechakul noted Thailand supported an LGBT rights resolution that the U.N. Human Rights Council approved in 2011. The vote is the first time the U.N. has approved a resolution that specifically deals with issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

“With his solid extensive experience in international human rights law, he added force to our movement,” Likhitpreechakul told the Blade, referring to the 2011 resolution. “We are happy that, in this new capacity, he will be able to focus on SOGIESC (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and sexual characteristics) issues and support the struggles for freedom and equality of our LGBTI sisters and brothers around the world.”

OutRight Action International Communications Officer Rashima Kwatra, who is also a Thai LGBT rights activist, also praised Muntarbhorn’s appointment.

“I couldn’t be more proud that the world’s first Independent expert on SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) is from my country,” said Kwatra in a statement. “Thailand, among other countries in the region, still does not fully respect and protect the human rights of LGBTIQ citizens. I am hopeful that his leadership will encourage positive legal change and social acceptance of LGBTIQ people in Thailand and around the world.”

Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global, described Muntarbhorn’s appointment as “a huge step forward for LGBTQ human rights worldwide.”

“Professor Muntarbhorn brings a wealth of experience to this position and will help to ensure that the U.N. follows through on its commitments to combating violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people,” said Cobb.

The U.N. Human Rights Council on June 30 approved a resolution that created Muntarbhorn’s position. The U.N. Security Council earlier in the month condemned the Pulse nightclub massacre in a statement that marked the first time it specifically denounced violence based on sexual orientation.

Vice President Biden, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders spoke alongside Caleb Orozco, a Belizean LGBT rights advocate who successfully challenged his country’s sodomy law, at an event the U.N. LGBT Core Group hosted on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month.

The event was the highest-level meeting on LGBT rights that has ever taken place at the U.N.

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