Blocking U.N. Expert Vitit Seen as Setback by LGBT Thais

Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Chulalongkorn University law professor, was appointed in September by the U.N. Human Rights Council to be the first independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Photo: Associated Press

BANGKOK — Activists in Thailand worry that a threat to the U.N. appointment of a Thai rights expert as the body’s first independent expert on the protection of LGBT rights would also be a setback to their cause at home.

After welcoming the recent news law professor Vitit Muntarbhorn would be named to the newly appointed position, several LGBT activists spoke of their concerns after the position’s legality was challenged Friday by a bloc of African nations who want to see it eliminated.

“The position might not be guaranteed to solve all problems, but at least there would be someone to gather information and make change for the world’s LGBT situation,” said Chumaporn Taengkliang of Togetherness for Equality and Action. “If the opposition reaches its goal and the position is canceled, it will delay human rights development for LGBT communities in every country.”

Read:  African Nations Seek to Get Rid of 1st UN LGBT Expert


The resolution to suspend the position was scheduled for a vote later today. If passed, activists said it would damage the credibility and effectiveness of the United Nations by interfering with the actions of its own Human Rights Council.

Chumaporn said the appointment of the 64-year-old Chulalongkorn University law professor would mean having someone to formally report abuses propagated in certain countries where governments infringe on LGBT rights. He would also be positioned to seek solutions for such issues.

“The position aims to open a venue for countries to discuss, exchange and protect their LGBT citizens,” said Paisarn Likhitpreechakul, co-founder of Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice of Thailand.

The position, created in a June resolution by the U.N. Human Rights Council, would study the laws, provide advice and create dialogue on matters of abuse and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – aka SOGI.

Paisarn said that resolution barely made it through, with 23 of 47 nations voting in favor and six abstaining after intense debate.

“SOGI is new and isn’t accepted in some countries,” Paisarn said, adding that LGBT matters are still culturally sensitive issue in Africa, where homosexuality is illegal in many nations and punishable by death in some.

World Matters at Home

Vitit declined requests to be interviewed, saying he would speak to a reporter after the appointment process was concluded later this month. On Tuesday, attempts to reach him by telephone were unsuccessful.

Prior to his appointment, he had been assigned to North Korean issues by the United Nations and had consulted with its various agencies.

His most notable achievement came in 2006 when he helped draft the Yogyakarta Principles, a nonbinding set of principles endorsing human rights protections on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Apart from his experience on the international stage, Vitit has worked to push forward LGBT issues at home, where many believe there would be many benefits if he maintains the position.

“It was an honor that Vitit was appointed as the independent expert to support LGBT rights. Also, he’s Thai,” said Midnight Poonkasetwattana, executive director APCOM Foundation.

Midnight’s organization signed onto a joint statement with other regional groups rejecting the annulment if the position.

Chumaporn of Togetherness for Equality and Action said Vitit could help to improve LGBT rights not only in Thailand but throughout the Asia Pacific region.

“As the independent expert position wasn’t given to someone from a first world country, I feel proud of Vitit, as he can represent views of Asia and developing countries in improving rights and liberties for everyone,” she said.

She said there are problems that need to be addressed in Thai law, such as the right to marry or change legal titles to match their identity, which creates many practical obstacles in people’s daily lives.

“Vitit will help make Thai people realize and be more active in protecting their rights regardless of sexual orientation, as he clearly understands the issues and problems,” Chumaporn said.

Part of that owes to his prestige, said Paisarn of the SOGI Rights and Justice Foundation.

“Vitit is highly regarded in the public sector,” Paisarn said, which would facilitate finding solutions and increased engagement on issues before more laws are pushed through by those who otherwise ignore them.


“The real problem here is that they don’t understand or listen to civil society, and when we oppose something, they say we should be glad we were born in Thailand and not Iraq or Africa.”

He looks forward to a future where the community’s issues are embraced by all as human issues.

“LGBT issues will be seen more as human rights concerns, not just [matters of] sympathy or sin,” he said. “It’s important for LGBT people to be treated as human beings.”