Meet Vitit Muntarbhorn, the new UN LGBT rights investigator
With the United Nations ready to take the cudgels for global LGBT rights, we have to ask: who is Vitit Muntarbhorn, the new independent LGBT rights investigator?
Appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, the task of the UN Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are to examine and then report on a particular human rights theme or the situation in a country (like North Korea).
These positions are not considered part of the UN staff and are considered as honorary. What’s more, those selected are not paid for their work.
Vitit Muntarbhorn: What is known
Not much is known of the personal life of Vitit Muntarbhorn. However, the Thai international human rights expert has a long record and experience in defending human rights.
Born in 1952, Muntarbhorn went to school in Oxford University in the UK for his undergraduate and graduate law degrees. He aso a degree on European Law from the Free University of Brussels.
Afterwards, he went on to lecture international law in different universities in Thailand, England, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, France, and Canada. In particular, he is a Professor Emeritus of law at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
He joined the UN and became the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography from 1990-1994. In 1994, he co-edited a paper on human rights in Thailand.
For his efforts, he was awarded the UNESCO Human Rights Education Prize in 2004.
In 2004, he became the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Through all the six years of his term as Special Rapporteur, North Korea denied his requests for meetings.
In 2006, he was the co-chairperson of the drafting committee that came up with the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law on LGBT rights.
In 2011, he became the Chair of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Ivory Coast. From 2012 to 2016, he was also one of the Commissioners of the Independent International Commission of inquiry on Syria.
Then this year, he was selected as first UN Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
A number of pro-LGBT groups lauded this choice.
“Attacked, discriminated against, targeted and invisibilized, our communities need an ally like Professor Muntarbhorn to ensure that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,’ as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states, is a reality and not only a dream,” said Renato Sabbadini, Executive Director of ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association).
“This is a huge step forward for LGBTQ human rights worldwide. Professor Muntarbhorn brings a wealth of experience to this position and will help to ensure that the UN follows through on its commitments to combating violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people,” said Ty Cobb, Director of HRC Global.
Vitit Muntarbhorn: Fighting for a chance
Vitit Muntarbhorn’s tenure has been rocky from the start as a number of countries– from the African states to Russia– have opposed the creation of the new position.
However, the other countries were able to resolve the situation such that Muntarbhorn has been able to continue working to pursue his position’s mandate.
Addressing the ILGA World Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, he declared that global partnership is needed to end the discrimination and violence against the LGBT community.
“Resolute action is required to stop the violence and discrimination affecting not only LGBT communities but also the human rights defenders working with them,” said Muntarbhorn.
He added that five key goals (decriminalization, ‘depathologization’, recognition of gender identity, cultural inclusion and ’empathization’) can help– but only via a broad global partnership.
The new UN Independent Expert further said that despite the progress in advancing LGBT rights, a lot still needs to be done.
“This mandate will cover every country under the sun and under the moon. There can never be a political or legal vacuum in terms of protecting people,” he said. This includes countries that opposed to his appointment, he added.