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African states fail in bid to stop UN gay rights envoy

The United Nations human rights committee has rejected a plan to delay the appointment of an expert on LGBTI rights. A draft African resolution was amended by Latin American states to delete the request.

The UN General Assembly third committee, which deals with human rights, voted on Monday to adopt an amendment to the original African draft resolution, which had called for the work of gay rights investigator Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand to be suspended.

In an unusual move, the 54-national African Group opposed the creation of the role, to investigate human rights violations against Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people.

Resolution opposed

But a group of Latin American countries, supported by many western states, sought to block the African draft in its original form during Monday's session. Their amendment gutted the original resolution.

In Monday's vote by most of the committee's 193-members, the amendment received 84 votes in favor, 77 against and 17 abstentions.

South Africa broke ranks with the rest of the continent and voted in favor of the amendment, while European countries, the US, Canada and South American states also voted to keep the expert in his post.

A vote, taken on the remaining draft resolution, was adopted with 94 votes in favor, three against and 80 abstentions.

Vitit Muntarbhorn

International law professor Vitit Muntarbhorn

Muntarbhorn, who is an International law professor, was appointed in September. He was given a three-year mandate to investigate abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

His appointment happened despite a stormy debate that also saw several African states vote against the decision.

Wrong priorities?

African diplomats said the human rights council should not be looking into sexual orientation and gender identity as it took away from other issues, including racism and the right to development.

Russia and Egypt, speaking on behalf of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said they would not recognize the mandate of the gay rights investigator and would not cooperate with Muntarbhorn.

Meanwhile, Britain has urged all countries to cooperate with the investigator.

The measure is now expected to go to the General Assembly for a vote, but it is unlikely that the bid to block the LGBT expert will be revived.

A total of 73 countries - almost 40 percent of all UN members - still have laws on their books making homosexuality a crime.

In Africa alone, 33 countries have anti-gay laws including Uganda, Nigeria, Sudan and Mauritania.

mm/bw (AFP, Reuters)