The U.N.’s First-Ever LGBT Rights Investigator Just Resigned After Only One Year

Vitit Muntarbhorn claimed his mandate "was so heated, so caustic, from the beginning."

It was an uphill battle confirming the U.N.’s first expert investigator into violence and discrimination aimed at the LGBT community—Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries attempted to sabotage the position. And now, barely a year into his three-year mission, Thai law professor Vitit Muntarbhorn has stepped down, citing an “illness in his household,” according to the AP

Tragically, the need for such an investigator has never been clearer: In addition to a lethal purge in Chechnya, there has been heightened persecution in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, which recently started a registry of “known homosexuals.”

Dozens of gay men have been detained in Egypt in the worst anti-gay crackdown there in more than a decade.

LGBT people live in “a crucible of egregious violations” of human rights, Muntarbhorn said, enduring violence and discrimination at the whim of repressive regimes.

Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket

On Friday, he addressed a General Assembly committee for the first—and last—time, praising “a global trend toward decriminalization of consensual same-sex relations.” He added, “the gaps are, however, ubiquitous.”

Opponents of Muntarbhorn’s position accused the U.N. of disrespecting cultural mores and prioritizing LGBT issues over discrimination based on race or religion. An effort to suspend him lost a General Assembly vote by 77-86, with 16 abstentions.

Muntarbhorn, whose post was unpaid, hinted at the frustration he faced in his months on the job: Few countries responded to his inquiries about human rights violations, he confessed, and he was never able to use public pressure to effect change. “Precisely because this mandate was so heated, so caustic, from the beginning, my humble intention during this year was to calm the situation through quiet engagement.”

Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

More than 70 nations still criminalize homosexuality, some with the death penalty. And even where its not illegal—as is the case in Egypt—LGBT people are persecuted under vague laws against public indecency or “debauchery.”

Muntarbhorn previously worked for the U.N. in Syria and North Korea, he’s addressed sex trafficking and child pornography, and in 2004, was awarded UNESCO’s Prize for Human Rights Education. His successor is expected to be named by the end of the year. But given the animus directed at him we can’t imagine many are rushing to send their resumes.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.