The U.N.’s first-ever LGBT and intersex rights watchdog says one of his main objectives is “to open the dialogue” around issues that relate to sexual orientation and gender identity.“I look at this process as an engaging process with all actors,” Vitit Muntarbhorn told the Washington Blade on Jan. 25 during a telephone interview from Geneva where he was holding a two-day series of consultations on LGBT and intersex issues at the U.N. Human Rights Council. “The door’s always open.”
The U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2016 approved a resolution that created the position. It appointed Muntarbhorn, who is an international law professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, last fall.
A U.N. committee last November rejected a proposal that would have suspended Muntarbhorn. The U.S. was among the 84 countries that voted against a second motion against his position a few weeks later.
Muntarbhorn was a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria from 2012-2016. Muntarbhorn has also served as special U.N. rapporteurs on North Korea and child prostitution and pornography.
Muntarbhorn in 2006 co-chaired the meeting that led to the adoption of the Yogyakarta Principles, a set of recommendations on the application of international human rights law to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He also spoke at the 28th ILGA World Conference that took place in Bangkok last November.
“The mandate is to address the issues of violence and discrimination,” Muntarbhorn told the Blade. “That’s the entry point.”
Muntarbhorn said his work focuses on five areas: Decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations, recognition of gender identity, fighting stigma against LGBT and intersex people, empathy and cultural inclusion.
“This is very much reaching out to a broad understanding of religion,” he said.
Muntarbhorn: I’m ‘totally independent’
Muntarbhorn spoke with the Blade less than a week after President Trump’s inauguration.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power championed LGBT rights during her ambassadorship.
Power’s successor, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, said during her confirmation hearing that American values “do not allow for discrimination of any kind to anyone.” Haley did not specifically mention LGBT and intersex people.
“I’m totally independent,” said Muntarbhorn in response to the Blade’s question about Trump’s election and whether his administration will promote LGBT and intersex rights abroad. “I’m pro bono. I fulfill the global mandate that is entrusted to me.”
“I don’t enter into the intricacies of domestic changes,” he added.
A State Department spokesperson on Monday confirmed Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry remains in his position. Gay Canadian MP Randy Boissonnault has been Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special advisor on LGBT, queer and two-spirited issues since last November.