A coalition of 54 African states submitted a resolution Friday calling for the suspension of the UN’s new LGBT investigator, noting that gender identity and sexual orientation have no place in international human rights instruments.
In late September, the UN Human Rights Council named Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand to the new role, charging him with investigating discrimination of LGBT persons worldwide. The African nations have challenged the legality of the appointment, asking that his mandate be put on hold.
Muntarbhorn has been tasked with assessing implementations of existing international human rights law, identifying best practices and gaps, and raising awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Critics suggest that his very mandate will constitute interference with the laws of many UN countries.
Seventy three countries worldwide, and almost 40 percent of all UN member states, have anti-sodomy laws on their books. In Africa alone, 33 states have laws making homosexual acts a crime, including Uganda, Nigeria, Sudan and Mauritania.
Speaking on behalf of the African countries, Botswana’s ambassador told a General Assembly human rights committee Friday that African nations “are alarmed” that the Human Rights Council is delving into national matters and attempting to focus on people “on the grounds of their sexual interests and behaviors.”
Ambassador Charles Ntwaagae said that the Council had no business looking into “sexual orientation and gender identity,” which are notoriously absent from the United Nations charter document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Those two notions are not and should not be linked to existing international human rights instruments,” said Ntwaagae. The UN has never adopted an official position regarding putative rights of gender identity or sexual orientation, though it does guarantee the rights of life, liberty, security, property and equal protection to all persons without distinction.
“We therefore call for the suspension of the activities of the appointed independent expert pending the determination of this issue,” said Ntwaagae.
The Africa group claimed that a focus on homosexual rights also takes attention away from other issues of “paramount importance,” such as racism and the right to development.
The draft resolution questioning the legality of Muntarbhorn’s mandate will be put to a vote on Tuesday. If adopted it would then need to be voted upon later this year by the General Assembly.
African leaders have often complained of attempts by Western nations to impose their values on other countries, accusing them of “cultural imperialism.”
When President Barack Obama visited Africa in 2015, he made the LGBT agenda one of the centerpieces of his message, comparing discrimination of gays in Africa to the treatment of blacks in America prior to the civil rights movement.
“As an African American in the United States I am painfully aware of what happens when people are treated differently under the law,” the president said.
According to an article in the New York Times, however, Obama’s full-court press for homosexual rights in Africa backfired, resulting in increased hostility toward gays rather than greater acceptance.
Immediately after his visit, a number of Africa’s political and religious leaders lashed out at the president, requesting that he learn to respect Africa’s values rather than imposing his own.
“In the same way that we don’t try to impose our culture on anyone, we also expect that people should respect our culture in return,” said Theresa Okafor, a Nigerian activist.
Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja Diocese in Nigeria, said that the position of Catholics against homosexual behavior is irrevocable and that the Church will continue to maintain its stand against gay marriage.
“Unfortunately, we are living in a world where these things have now become quite acceptable but for the fact that they are acceptable doesn’t mean that they are right,” he said. “The Catholic Church considers itself as carrying the banner of the truth in the world that has allowed itself to be so badly deceived.”
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