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Boris Johnson Urged To Defend UN's First LGBT Rights Expert By Labour MP Sarah Champion

At least 76 countries still discriminate against LGBT people.

08/11/2016 12:16 | Updated 08 November 2016

“Insidious” plans to halt the UN’s decision to appoint its first ever independent expert on LGBT issues are being challenged by a British politician.

Labour MP Sarah Champion has revealed her “disgust” that a group of African nations are threatening to block the appointment of Vitit Muntarbhorn, a law professor who has been hired to look at ways to overcome violence and discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive
Labour's Sarah Champion is urging Boris Johnson to defend the UN’s appointment of an expert on LGBT issues. 

On Tuesday the government sought to reassure Champion, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, that it will resist any attempt to block the appointment of the LGBT independent expert.

It comes after Champion wrote a letter to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, urging him to defend the UN’s appointment of an expert on LGBT issues. 

Champion’s letter read: “In June 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council created an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Vitit Muntarbhorn, who has been appointed to the role, is a law professor who has been on the council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria and previously served as UN special investigator on North Korea and on child prostitution and child pornography.

“Mr Muntarbhorn has been given a wide mandate by the UN Human Rights Council for three years.

“The role includes looking at ways to overcome violence and discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, addressing the root causes of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, addressing the root causes of discrimination, and working with states to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Anja Niedringhaus/AP
Vitit Muntarbhorn has been hired by the UN to look at ways to overcome violence and discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The letter continued: “I am extremely concerned that African nations are now seeking to initially suspend the UN’s first independent expert charged with investigating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“You will of course understand the strong imperative for such a role to exist and the very real implications for LGBT individuals all over the world who continue to be subject to the most appalling and systematic discrimination, hatred and violence.” 

Champion said that at least 76 countries retain laws used to criminalise and target people based on their special orientation and gender identity.

Champion described the independent expert’s role as “critical” to bring to light human rights abuses.

The Labour MP for Rotherham asked an urgent question in the House of Commons on Tuesday regarding the government’s response to the attempt to overturn the UN’s mandate.

Sir Alan Duncan, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, said the government “strongly opposed” any attempt to override the UN’s appointment of Muntarbhorn.

Duncan said: “We will resist any and all attempts to block his appointment and his mandate.”

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw told the Commons that during his time as a Foreign Office minister he was told by the leader of one Commonwealth nation that he would not be welcome to visit that country.

Bradshaw suggested that the UK should make its “very generous aid conditional on respects of all human’s rights”.

Duncan said such a condition would raise moral questions of stopping money which then harms the poor.

MPs from across the political divide agreed with Champion’s urgent question, with Conservative representative Stuart Andrew revealing a harrowing experience he went through many years ago when he was “beaten unconscious because of his sexuality”.

In Champion’s letter to Johnson, she continued: “Graeme Reid, director of the Human Rights Watch LGBT programme, has said that the language used in the resolution being brought forward tomorrow is ‘insidious’ because ‘the implication is that LGBT rights don’t belong in the human rights system at all.”

She said that the proposed motion set a “worrying precedent for the UN Human Rights committee to be overruled.”

Pooja Patel, LGBT rights programme manager at the International Service of Human Rights (ISHR), described the actions of the group of African countries as being “harmful”.

“This move is harmful to non-violence and anti-discrimination efforts in relation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people around the world.

“It will also entrench an ugly precedent whereby the Third Committee could effectively reverse any decision by the Human Rights Council, completely undermining its integrity and independence,’ said Patel. 

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