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December 21, 2016

Equality Prevails at the United Nations

In a victory for the human rights movement, and for the integrity of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations General Assembly rejected an amendment that would have stripped the mandate of the U.N. Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The position was created in June 2016 through a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution. The independent expert’s tasks include assessing the implementation of international human rights principles as they relate to the protection of LGBT people, raising awareness of issues of violence and discrimination against LGBT people, identifying and addressing the root causes of such violence and discrimination, and engaging with states, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders to address these issues. The first-ever independent expert, Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand, was appointed in late August.

In a strong statement opposing the amendment, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power expressed the United States’ conviction “that discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity is no different from discriminating against people for the color of their skin, for discriminating against them because of their sex, or because of their nationality. It is wrong.” She went on to affirm, “such discrimination cuts against the very essence of the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

According to Power the amendment questioned the legal basis for the independent expert’s mandate, despite “resolutions and statements adopted by the Human Rights Council, the U.N. Security Council, and the U.N. General Assembly,” as well as “nearly 1,300 recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review” that attest to the serious human rights issues facing LGBT people around the world.. Monday’s effort to strip the mandate followed another failed attempt in November.

Countries around the world stood for the human rights of LGBT people by voting against the amendment. Human Rights First was one of 870 non-government organizations from 157 countries that joined a statement highlighting the need for the independent expert position given the systematic violence and discrimination LGBT people face around the world.

As we come to the end of 2016, a year of both successes and challenges for the LGBT movement, this victory shows promise for the worldwide LGBT community and a growing consensus that violence and discrimination against LGBT people are, indeed, human rights issues that must be addressed on the global stage.