Defending the Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

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The report was written by these four organizations: OutRight Action International (OutRight), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), and ARC International. The aim of this report is to offer insight into the dynamics of debates on SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics) and human rights at the UNGA by providing an analysis of the voting records of UN Member States, transcripts of the debates that surrounded each vote and a snapshot of the pivotal role of civil society advocacy throughout the process.

Persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) experience human rights violations because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or sex characteristics (SOGEISC).1 These violations perpetrated against individuals based on their real or perceived SOGIESC include killings, violent attacks, torture, arbitrary detention, forced marriage, denial of rights to assembly and expression and discrimination in accessing health care, education, employment and housing.2

Thanks to the sustained efforts of civil society and supportive United Nations (UN) Member States, SOGIESC related human rights violations have received increased attention at the international level in recent years. Since 2010,the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) has adopted three resolutions on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity.3 In 2016, HRC Resolution 32/2 on protection from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity established the first ever UN mandate holder on sexual orientation and gender identity, titled the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (IE SOGI).4

The HRC is a subsidiary body to the UN General Assembly (UNGA). As such, the resolutions adopted by the HRC over the course of a calendar year are compiled into one document, known as the Report of the Human Rights Council, for consideration by the UNGA. The decisions of the HRC are confirmed at the UNGA Session through the adoption of resolutions recognizing the Human Rights Council report and resolutions to approve associated financial resource implications.

The UNGA routinely adopts the Report on the Human Rights Council without much controversy.5 However, during the 71st Session of the UNGA in an extraordinary move, the African Group used the Report on the HRC to challenge the appointment of the IE SOGI mandate.

The following report provides an account of the successful defense of the IE SOGI mandate at the UNGA over the course of the 71st Session from October to December 2016. The process of defending the establishment of the IE SOGI by the HRC at the UNGA ultimately resulted in six separate votes on resolutions and resolution amendments, across two main General Assembly Committees and UNGA Plenary sessions.6

The aim of this report is to offer insight into the dynamics of debates on SOGIESC and human rights at the UNGA by providing an analysis of the voting records of UN Member States, transcripts of the debates that surrounded each vote and a snapshot of the pivotal role of civil society advocacy throughout the process.

It is our hope that this report will be used by multiple stakeholders to advocate for the human rights of LGBTI people within the UN system and beyond. It can be used as a tool to hold UN Member States accountable for their words and actions at the UNGA and to international law, norms and standards on human rights. Civil society in particular may use it as an advocacy tool: to gain a snapshot on arguments used by different actors and in the future, support the defense of human rights of LGBTI people within the international system.


1       The authors of this publication support the right of people to refer to their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression or sex characteristics as they feel comfortable. The authors also recognize that terminology can be strongly contested and differs across cultures, between people and over time. While this document refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, it is also relevant with regards to other people who face violence and discrimination on the basis of their actual or perceived SOGIESC, including those who may identify with other terms.

2       United Nations, High Commissioner’s report to the Human Rights Council on discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (May 2015) A/HRC/29/23, High Commissioner’s report to the Human Rights Council on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (issued 15 December 2011) A/HRC/19/41.

3       Human Rights Council, ‘Resolution 32/2’, A/HRC/RES/32/2 (12 July 2016); Human Rights Council, ‘Resolution 27/32’, A/HRC/27/L.27/Rev.1 (24 September 2014); Human Rights Council, ‘Resolution 17/19’, A/HRC/RES/17/19 (17 June 2011).

4       A compilation of the key statements, documents and outcomes of the adoption of the Resolution establishing the IE SOGI in Geneva on 30 June 2016 can be found here: http://ilga.org/compilation-adoption-2016-sogi-resolution/

5       An example of the use of such a tactic was with respect to UNGA Resolution 24/24 which was adopted by the Human Rights Council and aimed to create a focal point on reprisals. When the Report of the Human Rights Council was being considered by the Third Committee, an amendment was moved which sought to defer consideration of the resolution.

6       Openshaw, E. & Sinclair, M., Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly: A Practical Guide for NGOs, The International Service for Human Rights (2017).