NEW YORK, Dec 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nations may
outlaw same-sex relations, execute gay people and oppose the
very existence of his job, but the United Nations' first
investigator tasked with combating violence and discrimination
against gay and transgender people is undeterred.
Even countries perceived as the most virulent opponents of
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights
may have pockets of openness and tolerance, said Vitit
Muntarbhorn of Thailand, the U.N.'s new gay rights independent
Muntarbhorn's job - to address, protect against and combat
violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or
gender identity - was created by the Geneva-based U.N. Human
Rights Council despite strong objections by Saudi Arabia and
other Muslim countries.
African states then sought to have his work suspended, but
their effort was overridden by Latin American and Western
nations at the United Nations last month.
Still, Russia and Egypt, speaking on behalf of the 57-member
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, have said they would not
recognize Muntarbhorn's mandate nor cooperate with him.
"What is important from my perspective is not to see
countries or governments as monolithic," Muntarbhorn told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation this week, in one of the first
interviews he has given since his appointment in September.
"If you start to liaise and bridge-build, you will also find
niches where you will find people who are more open," he said.
"So my approach has always been that I must dialog with, I
must interlink with those who might say no to the mandate from
More than 70 nations have laws against same sex relations,
and hundreds of LGBTI people have been killed and thousands
injured in recent years, the U.N. has reported.
Yet one country might take entirely different approaches
toward gay and transgender people, leaving room for progress,
said Muntarbhorn, 64, an international law professor at the
Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
He has served on several U.N. bodies, including inquiries on
Syria and as a special rapporteur on North Korea.
"For example, in my country, there's no law against gays ...
but for the trans group, they can't change their gender
identity," Muntarbhorn said.
Unable to change their legal identities, transgender people
face issues from access to toilets to job and immigration
rights, he said.
Other countries might support transgender rights yet have
laws making gay people subject to the death penalty, he said.
Neither are the rights or expectations of the LGBTI
community the same across the world, he added.
Along with violence and discrimination are such issues as
rights to marry and adopt, he said. Some intersex people,
meanwhile, who have ambiguous sex characteristics and identify
as neither male nor female, are concerned with overcoming a
medical perception that they are abnormal, he said.
Muntarbhorn added that he does not look at his task in terms
of how many people he might represent around the world.
"One person might be affected 10, 20, 100 times, bullied at
a young age, can't go to toilet, laughed at, tortured,
ultimately killed and defamed at the same time," he said. "How
many violations can you count?"
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Additional reporting by Michelle
Nichols, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson
Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that
covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property
rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)