Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Independent Expert at UNHRC

Role and Importance

On June 30th, in Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution on “Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity”, to mandate the appointment of an Independent Expert on the subject.

The Expert will be tasked with assessing implementation of existing international human rights law; identifying best practices and gaps; raising awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; engaging in dialogue and consultation with States and other stakeholders; and facilitating provision of advisory services, technical assistance, capacity-building, and cooperation to help address violence and discrimination on these grounds.

The Independent Expert position is part of a mechanism of the UNHCR called Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special procedures are either an individual (called "Special Rapporteur" or "Independent Expert") or a Working Group composed of five members, one from each of the five United Nations regional groupings: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and the Western group.

The system of Special Procedures is a central element of the United Nations human rights machinery and covers all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, and social.

These are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. They are appointed by the Human Rights Council and serve in their personal capacities. They are not United Nations staff members and do not receive financial remuneration. However, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights provides staffing and logistical support to aid each mandate-holder in carrying out their work.

Special Procedures undertake country visits; act on individual cases of alleged violations and concerns of a broader, structural nature by sending communications to States; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations, contributing to the development of international human rights standards ; engage in advocacy and raise public awareness ; and provide advice for technical cooperation. Special Procedures report annually to the Human Rights Council and the majority of the mandates also report to the General Assembly.

In addition, either at the request of the Human Rights Council or own initiative, Special Procedures prepare thematic studies, develop human rights standards and guidelines, participate in expert consultations, seminars and conferences, organize panels during the sessions of the HRC, organize working visits, and raise public awareness about specific human rights situations and phenomena attesting threats to and violations of human rights through public statements and interaction with a wide variety of partners.

The UNHCR does not specify any differences in the description of the roles of Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, or Working Groups on their website. The different titles can sometimes denote differences in working methods but any such distinctions are usually minor. For the purpose of interaction with non-governmental organizations, there is no differentiation between these roles.

A mandate-holder’s tenure in a given function, whether it is a thematic or country mandate, is limited to a maximum of six years. Mandate holders are generally appointed serve for three-year terms, renewable for a second three-year term.

Currently, there are 41 thematic mandate holders and 14 country mandate holders.

OutRight joins the 628 nongovernmental organizations from 151 countries that called on the Council to adopt the resolution and create the SOGI Independent Expert. We welcome this decision and hope this becomes a turning point in the struggle against discrimination and violence against LGBTIQ people around the world.