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LGBTI people face “vortex of violence and discrimination,” says UN expert in debut address

GENEVA (22 November 2016) - People from LGBTI communities around the world are experiencing a proliferation in hate speech, including “rampant” social media attacks, as well as violence and discrimination, said a specialist on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people newly appointed by the Human Rights Council.

Vitit Muntarbhorn used his first speech as UN Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to criticize antiquated laws, illiberal interpretations of religion and stereotyping.

He said people who “simply wish to be what they are” were continuing to face challenges and human rights abuses around the world.  Some progress had been made but many people still faced a “vortex of violence and discrimination”.

“Instances of murder, killings, rape, mutilation and other cruel treatment are well documented in various parts of the world and by many sources,” the expert said in a keynote address to a meeting on LGBTI equality, organised by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

“At times, LGBTI communities are affected by common violations stemming from stereotyping and stigmatization; at other times each community is impacted specifically and distinctly,” he stated.
 
Lesbian, gay and bisexual people, for example, were particularly affected by laws criminalizing same-sex relations, which still exist in some 70 countries, while lesbians have suffered “corrective rape” in the warped belief that this would change their sexual orientation.

Transgender people were often prevented from changing their official documents, he said, as well as being laughed at, bullied and “violated in multiple forms”.  Even in countries where people could legally change their status, some were forced to undergo surgery, leading to human rights violations and other complications.

The plight of intersex people had been invisible until recently, Mr. Muntarbhorn said.  Many people born with atypical sex characteristics, such as people with both male and female organs had been subjected to coerced medical surgery or treatment from a young age, and were suffering “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,” the Independent Expert 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. Too many people were being stereotyped, stigmatized and ostracized, he said.

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.

“The classic case is the variety of laws in a number of countries derived from the colonial era which still criminalize same-sex relations, even when the colonizing power discarded such laws a long time ago,” he said.

“On another front, while care, kindness and consideration are at the heart of religions in their common humanity and linkage with human rights, various interlocutors misconstrue or resort to interpretations to justify violence and discrimination.”

The Independent Expert noted that, in some cases, the authorities were deliberately pursuing their own political agenda by claiming that they were acting in the interests of national security and public morality, while in reality acting to curb freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

Mr. Muntarbhorn’s comments came as he addressed a roundtable event of the European Governmental LGBTI Focal Points Network in Strasbourg on 17 November 2016, aimed at ensuring the human rights of LGBTI children and young people.

(*) Check the Independent Expert’s full speech: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20912&LangID=E

ENDS

Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn (Thailand) is the first UN Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). He took up the newly created mandate on 1 November 2016. Lean more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SexualOrientationGender/Pages/Index.aspx

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Catherine de Preux De Baets (+41 22 917 9327 / cdepreuxdebaets@ohchr.org) or write to ie-sogi@ohchr.org.

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