LGBTI people face ‘vortex of violence and discrimination,’ newly-appointed UN expert warns

Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Vitit Muntarbhorn. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

22 November 2016 – People from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities around the world are experiencing a proliferation in hate speech, including “rampant” social media attacks, as well as violence and discrimination, a newly appointed United Nations human rights expert warned today.

“Instances of murder, killings, rape, mutilation and other cruel treatment are well documented in various parts of the world and by many sources,” Vitit Muntarbhorn, the first-ever UN Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, told a meeting on LGBTI equality, organized by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

Mr. Muntarbhorn said people who “simply wish to be what they are” are continuing to face challenges and human rights abuses around the world.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people are particularly affected by laws criminalizing same-sex relations, which still exist in some 70 countries, he said. Transgender people are often prevented from changing their official documents, as well as being laughed at, bullied and “violated in multiple forms.”

The plight of intersex people had been invisible until recently, Mr. Muntarbhorn said, noting that many people born with atypical sex characteristics, such as people with both male and female organs, are subjected to coerced medical surgery or treatment from a young age, and suffer “interminable damage and trauma.”

“The vortex of violence and discrimination, in their multiple forms, often starts in the home, at school, in the community and in the surrounding environment, with violations breeding violations,” he stressed.

“We are currently witnessing a proliferation of hate speech, often rampant in the media and on social media networks, which fuels antagonism steeped in homophobia, and transphobia,” he noted.

Mr. Muntarbhorn vowed to use his new mandate to press for action for the whole LGBTI community under the principle of non-discrimination enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

He named five key areas which would drive change: decriminalizing same-sex relationships; no longer treating LGBTI people as if they had a “problem” or “disorder;” recognizing people’s status; clarifying misconstructions and misinterpretations; and integrating gender-and-sexual diversity and teaching empathy from childhood onwards.

But he warned the problem could not be solved without addressing both political and cultural issues.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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