Appearing before the Human Rights Council for the first time, UN independent expert on LGBT issues Vitit Muntarbhorn refused to retrench even as he appeared embattled and emotional from criticism of his work.

Homosexual and transgender rights “are based on international law,” he stressed in a loud voice. “There is also the call today of the Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind,” he added. “And that means no one left behind, please” he added tersely.

Though the freshman expert faced virtually no open hostility in the Council, at times he was unable to contain an irritated and impatient tone in response to criticism of his inaugural report and a statement of the 57-strong Organization of Islamic Cooperation saying that they do not recognize his mandate as legitimate.

“There is no advocacy from this mandate for new rights for particular groups,” Muntarbhorn responded.

This is the central point of contention between Muntarbhorn and his supporters at the United Nations and the member states that oppose his mandate. While UN treaties protect the rights of all individual members of the human family equally, no UN treaty, either explicitly or implicitly, includes any rights related to sexual behavior and preferences, or the right of individuals to re-define their identity independently of their biological sex.

Muntarbhorn reiterated his broad agenda and emphasized that anti-discrimination measures were not just about social acceptance and violence, but a “longitudinal challenge starting in the home and extending to the educational system, the workplace, and life beyond.”

When addressing “how to deal with the hostile element,” referring to countries and groups that are not on board with the LGBT agenda, Muntarbhorn said, “we have to work with the converted, the less converted, and the non-converted.”

He explained that “we are having to do with power relations,” presumably referring to a realist understanding of international relations. Consistent with this theory, which sees international law and human rights as a malleable instrument in power dynamics between states rather than a type of law set in stone, he said “International law is important to allow power balance.”

“We do respect diversity,” he told Ruben Navarro, a representative of ADF International who objected to the work of Muntarbhorn out of concern for religious freedom. The answer he received could not have been reassuring however, since Muntarbhorn said his respect was only “within the perspective of international law.”

He pointed to the 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights as the “parameter” for his interaction with “diversity of opinion” on the mandate. Muntarbhorn’s report suggests that conference established the primacy of human rights over religion and culture.

When mentioning countries that had religious objections to the LGBT agenda he said it was important to respond to them in a “measured and judicious way,” but he added, “bearing in mind the connectivity with international standards,” again referring to the purported primacy of human rights over religion.

Consistent with this view, he called for censorship of dissenting views by internet service providers through “take down policies” for “homophobic and transphobic messages” and for hate speech laws, industry codes of conduct, and co-regulation between the government and private sector.
 

Stefano Gennarini writes for C-FAM, from where this article is adapted.

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