United Nations To Consider Creating An LGBT Rights Officer

Five South American countries are expected to propose creating a new office concerned with LGBTI people's rights during next week's meeting of the Human Rights Council.

A group of five South American countries is expected to propose creating a new position at the United Nations devoted to investigating human rights violations against LGBTI people.

The position — a special rapporteur, or investigator — would answer to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is beginning its next session of work in Geneva next week.

"We are going to be presenting a resolution, but it's a work in progress," said a diplomat with one of the countries sponsoring the initiative, who asked not to be named because the proposal had not been made public.

If such a resolution were adopted, it would be a significant step towards ensuring LGBTI rights are an ongoing matter of concern to international human rights bodies. The Human Rights Council adopted its first ever resolution on "human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity" in 2011 led by South Africa, but it took LGBTI rights supporters several years to figure out how to continue to press the issue further.

That's in part because LGBTI rights blew up into a major global confrontation in 2014, thanks to the showdown over Russia's anti-LGBT law in the lead-up to that year's Olympics and the reaction of donor nations to sweeping anti-LGBT laws adopted by Nigeria and Uganda. South Africa, whose leadership had been crucial to diffusing allegations that LGBTI rights were a form of "cultural imperialism," lost enthusiasm for pushing the cause further at the United Nations.

A follow-up resolution introduced that year, sponsored by Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay, ordered the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to produce a study on LGBTI rights worldwide. The resolution's supporters were bracing for countries led by Russia and members of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation to put up a bitter fight over the study, especially since a resolution devoted to "protection of the family" passed with language favored by conservatives just a few months earlier. But in the end the study's creation passed by a lopsided 29–19 vote.

(The report, released in June 2015, included landmark language about partnership and the rights of intersex people.)

The sponsors of that 2014 resolution, along with Argentina, form the group known as the LAC5 who are working on the resolution to create the new LGBTI rights position.

Diplomats familiar with the proposal say it is possible the position could be called an "independent expert" instead of a "special rapporteur," depending on the outcome of negotiations. Some of the U.N.'s current special rapporteurships began as independent expert positions, and the office would have similar powers to report on human rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in countries around the world regardless of what it's called.

"There's no significant difference between the two — it's really a semantic difference," said a U.S. diplomat who spoke about the pending resolution on the condition of anonymity because the diplomat did not have permission to speak to press. Either way, the diplomat said, it would be a major step forward in making LGBTI rights a permanent issue inside the United Nations.

"We would have an individual appointed to the U.N. working on LGBT issues ... and the very act of putting someone into that kind of a position would be very important in institutionalizing it," the U.S. diplomat said.

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