SA opposes African bid to halt work of UN LGBTI expert

African states failed on Monday to halt the work of the first UN independent investigator to help protect gay rights.

A small rainbow flag, representing equality for members of the LGBTI community. Picture: Stock.XCHNG

PRETORIA – South Africa has broken ranks with African states at the United Nations General Assembly who have failed to stop the work of the first UN independent investigator appointed to help protect gay and transgender people worldwide from violence and discrimination.

It opens the way for investigations by the world organisation of abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex people.

Two months ago the 47-member UN Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, appointed Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand as a special rapporteur investigating abuses against LGBTI people.

In the UN General Assembly's third committee, which deals with human rights, Africans yesterday proposed the work of the investigator should be suspended.

Latin American countries, supported by Western nations and South Africa, successfully proposed an amendment that gutted the African group's draft resolution.

The amendment was adopted in the third committee on Monday with 84 votes in favour, 77 against and 17 abstentions.

The amended draft resolution, which makes no change to the work of the gay rights investigator, was then adopted by the third committee with 94 votes in favour, three against and 80 abstentions.

Russia and Egypt, speaking on behalf of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, said they would not recognise the mandate of the gay rights investigator and would not cooperate with Muntarbhorn. Britain urged all countries to cooperate with the investigator.

Being gay is a crime in at least 73 countries, the UN has said. The issue of gay rights consistently sparks heated debate at the United Nations.

In 2014, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the UN would recognise all same-sex marriages of its staff, allowing them to receive UN benefits. Russia unsuccessfully tried to overturn it last year, with Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, India, Egypt, Pakistan, and Syria among 43 states that supported Moscow.

In February the African Group, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the 25-member Group of Friends of the Family, led by Egypt, Belarus and Qatar, protested the launch of six UN stamps promoting LGBT equality.

Then a group of 51 Muslim states blocked 11 gay and transgender organisations from officially attending a high-level UN meeting in June on ending Aids, sparking a protest by the United States, Canada and the European Union.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

(Edited by Neo Koza)