Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s top human rights official, was conspicuously silent about LGBT issues when he addressed the General Assembly on Monday.
Zeid avoided any mention of LGBT issues both in his prepared remarks and his interactive dialogue with delegates in the Third Committee, as states weigh whether or not to renew his mandate as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for another four years.
“This may be the last time I am before this august committee,” Zeid said solemnly, as he concluded his remarks, during a meeting that proved mostly uneventful.
The Jordanian royal’s silence on LGBT rights was surprising because his office criticized a global backlash against LGBT advocacy around the world only last week, including 180 arrests in Egypt, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan. He was expected to take these countries to task, as well as others actively considering restricting LGBT advocacy to protect children and traditional mores.
In previous years, when challenged on his work in the Third Committee, Zeid pushed back hard against any suggestion of impropriety. The annual report of the High Commissioner to the General Assembly has become a fixture of the Third Committee in recent years, entertaining delegates with an unfriendly if unofficial exchange of views about LGBT issues between UN member states and the world’s top human rights official.
This year he demurred when Egypt explicitly chided him on behalf of African countries for his LGBT advocacy. Indonesia and the Russian Federation also reprimanded him implicitly. Other delegations praised the work of the UN human rights bureaucracy to promote LGBT issues, including the United States, Brazil, and the European Union.
Many socially conservative countries who supported Zeid’s candidacy for High Commissioner in 2014 were shocked by his aggressive support of special new rights for individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise (LGBT) from the outset of his term as High Commissioner. And Zeid has since pushed boundaries when it comes to LGBT issues.
Not only has Zeid supported elevating notions such as sexual orientation and gender identity alongside protected categories such as race, sex, and religion in international human rights law, he has sought to expand special protections to a new “intersex” category of persons. Although this new category, like sexual orientation and gender identity, remains undefined in law or science, Zeid maintains that human rights law requires banning any medical intervention to rectify anatomical defects in the sexual organs of children.
Last month, while world leaders attended the General Assembly, Zeid unveiled a set of voluntary LGBT global standards for businesses that his office prepared without any direction from member States. He also spoke at an LGBT event at UN headquarters where he praised the “historic” progress of the LGBT agenda around the world and described it as “unstoppable.”
Prince Zeid is eligible for a second term subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. In an interview in Foreign Policy in March he appeared skeptical about a second term, not least because of his criticism of now U.S. President Donald Trump. The Jordanian Prince called Trump “dangerous” only days before the U.S. general election last year.
Austin Ruse writes for C-FAM, an advocacy organization based in New York City.