At the 2016 World Conference of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association in Bangkok, Thailand, the first-ever United Nations independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (UN IE SOGI), Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, recognized the importance of the interconnectedness of international non-governmental organizations as he discussed the UN mandate on SOGI to provide more oversight on ensuring protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
When the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed the resolution to appoint an independent expert on SOGI, they expected that:
The expert will be tasked with assessing 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 provision of advisory services, technical assistance, capacity-building, and cooperation to help address violence and discrimination on these grounds (Human Rights Watch, June 30, 2016).
When the UNHRC discussed the resolution to establish an independent expert, some countries sought to deter the appointment. In light of the emphasis on universal principles in the world society, it is telling that Saudi Arabia requested a no-action motion, supported by Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Pakistan (speaking on behalf of Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, except Albania), on the grounds that the cultural diversity of Member States should prevent the appointment of an independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is not surprising that the Human Rights Council affirmed the universal nature of human rights law in passing the resolution.
In his talk to the World Conference, Muntarbhorn stressed that the key steps to ensuring LGBT people are included in the “leave no one behind” pledge in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development including developing global partnerships to facilitate:
- Decriminalization: working with nation-states to lift laws criminalizing consensual LGBTI sex
- Depathologization: working with scientists and doctors to remove classifications of sexual orientation and gender identity as an illness or disease
- Status recognition: working with nation-states to establish laws and practices giving all people the right to have their gender identity recognized on official documents
- Gender-diverse cultural inclusion: working with nation-states, religious leaders, and other opinion leaders to disseminate religious interpretations that promote respect and protection of LGBTI people
- Empathization: working with educational leaders, parents, and communities to institute educational and socialization processes to educate youth and prevent LGBTI violence and discrimination in early childhood.
These five points emphasize the principles dominating the world society: universal application, rationality, individualism, rational authority, scientific progress, and global citizenship.
Like the UNHCR resolution, the five points raised by Mr. Muntarbhorn are meant to be applicable in all cultures, despite significant opposition from cultures with strong religious objections to sexual orientation and gender identity. The explicit mention of scientists and medical professionals emphasizes the importance of scientific evidence and progress. Evoking the rule of law and ways that nation-states should adapt their legislation recognizes the role of rational authority structures to enforce norms of the world society. Underlying each of the principles raised by Mr. Muntarbhorn is an understanding of global citizenship to include the rights of all individuals to participate in economic, social, and cultural practices.