OPINION: The renewal of the UN independent expert on SOGI's mandate is cause for celebration

by Jessica Stern | OutRight Action International
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 17:32 GMT

A woman walks outside on the grounds of the United Nations headquarters during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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The Independent expert on SOGI was not challenged in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly

Last week, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted on the Annual Report of the Human Rights Council which, among other things, included an extension of the mandate of the independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

The report was adopted, the extension of this particular mandate went unchallenged, and LGBT+ activists across the world breathed a sigh of relief.

The independent expert plays a crucial role in documenting the discrimination and violence LGBT+ people around the world face merely for who we love, the gender we are, or how we express it. Its mere existence is a source of hope and empowerment for LGBT+ activists.

It explicitly recognises that human rights are not subject to compliance with arbitrary norms about sexual orientation or gender identity, that LGBT+ people face particular challenges in their lives, and that this is not OK. The value of this sort of recognition at an international level cannot be overstated.

But ever since the mandate was created in 2016, it has faced challenge after challenge from states and civil society purportedly defending so-called traditional values and contesting the very right of LGBT+ people to be.

The challenges came at the Human Rights Council – the foremost human rights body of the United Nations which established the Independent Expert mandate - and at the Third Committee – a committee of the General Assembly that deals with human rights and humanitarian issues.

The fact that the Third Committee votes on work of the Human Rights Council is problematic in and of itself. This practice, initiated by a group of African states at the Third Committee, undermines the independence of a body solely dedicated to the promotion and protection of international human rights principles and law, and makes its work subject to political power-play.

For a topic such as the rights of LGBT+ people, or gender equality, this can be detrimental.

Defending the mandate of the independent expert on SOGI three years ago was no small feat. It took a concerted effort by civil society organisations and states dedicated to the equality of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, working across borders, and time zones, at all times of the day.

That experience taught us to be forever vigilant. So this year we were prepared for a fight too. But it didn't come. And that is cause for celebration.

In fact, a record-high number of states from across the world supported the renewal of the mandate at the Human Rights Council back in July. And no one challenged it in the Third Committee last week. This is a clear indication that the international community is becoming both more aware and accepting of the fact that LGBT+ people have existed, do exist and will continue to exist across the world.

It is also a testament to the strength, bravery, resilience and relentlessness of LGBT+ activists the world over, standing up for who we are in the face of hate, of violence, even death.

Our movement is a constant source of inspiration to me, and I look forward to the progress we will continue to bring about together.

We will continue to be have the crucial support from Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the current independent expert on SOGI, whose mandate was not challenged last week, and whose mandate we will continue to champion and defend.

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