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July 29, 2016

U.N. Human Rights Council Adopts an Historic Resolution

By Stephen Chukwumah

Human rights activists around the world are boldly demanding equality for everyone. They have pushed for the recognition of the human rights of LGBTI people from governments, the United Nations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Organization of American States, recording tremendous success.

In May 2014, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a landmark resolution condemning acts of violence and discrimination targeting anyone based on their real or perceived sexual orientation. The Organization of American States in June 2014 adopted its most recent resolution on human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In September 2014, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, following a similar 2011 resolution. These important successes can be attributed to activists’ tenacious and resilient work around the word and to governments committed to advancing human rights globally.

In an historic move on July 1, 2016, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to appoint an independent expert whose responsibility would include documenting, reporting on, and making recommendations to address the violations that people face because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Of course, this mandate will not automatically end anti-LGBTI violence around the world. Some say it may even limit the push for broader protections based on sexuality and gender, a viewpoint not widely held, but  amplified by the Coalition of African Lesbians in a recent statement.

However, the resolution is a welcome development. This position signals U.N. prioritization of human rights for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The role of the independent expert would include monitoring human rights violations against LGBTI people across the world, assessing the implementation of nondiscrimination and human rights laws, identifying best practices and gaps, and raising awareness of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people.

Human rights activists around the world are currently helping with the search for a reliable and credible candidate because they understand that the mandate presents an opportunity for states to be held accountable for their human rights records, especially as they relate to LGBTI issues. The tragic shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando underscores the real threat of violence that LGBTI people continue to face, even in a country with significant legal advances.

The new mandate will be an opportunity for progress on human rights globally and for addressing the persistent forms of violence that people face based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.