UN appoints Thai human rights expert to probe LGBT crime

torture2Global human rights groups praised the appointment last week of a respected and renowned Thai human rights advocate as the first United Nations expert tasked with investigating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a newly created role.

The United Nations Human Rights Council named Vitit Muntarbhorn, a law professor from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, as the U.N.’s first independent expert to investigate violence and discrimination directed at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community and individuals. The new role is the latest in a long list of U.N. appointments for Vitit, including as a special rapporteur on North Korea, and child prostitution and pornography, and as a member of a panel of inquiry on Syria.

“I look forward to bridge-building with stakeholders and communities globally to counter violence and prejudice so that people will be respected and protected in the spirit of human rights and sexual diversity, and under the umbrella of international law,” Vitit told the Bangkok Post upon learning of his appointment.

John Fisher, the director of Human Rights Watch welcomed the appointment, saying “this critical mandate will bring much-needed attention to human rights violations against LGBT people in all regions of the world.” He added that council had “made history” with the appointment.

Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb said Vitit’s appointment was “a huge step forward for LGBT human rights worldwide.”

Vitit has been involved in the issue of LGBT rights before. In 2006, he co-chaired the U.N. meeting that led to the Yogyakarta Principles, a set of recommendations on applying international human rights law to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, a member of Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission, said, “the UN Human Rights Council has appointed the right person because Vitit is one person who really knows and understands all dimensions of LGBT. And he is a widely recognized law professor by both state and civil society sectors.”

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, formerly known as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said that Vitit’s appointment was “a huge leap forward.”

The Nation newspaper reported that as the independent expert, Vitit will be tasked with assessing the implementation of existing international human rights law, identifying best practices and gaps, raising awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, engaging in dialogue and consultation with states and other stakeholders, and facilitating provisions for advisory services, technical assistance, capacity-building, and cooperation to help address violence and discrimination.

According to a U.N. report issued last year, hundreds of LGBT have been killed and thousands injured in recent years, in violence that included knife attacks, rape and genital mutilation, as well as stoning and dismemberment.