APCOM proudly congratulates eminent LGBTI human rights advocate Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn on recently being awarded the Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) for his significant contribution to international human rights. Prof. Muntarbhorn is the second Thai person in history to receive the honour. Prof. Muntarbhorn is a distinguished scholar of the Faculty of Law at Chulalongkorn University and a former United Nations’ Independent Expert on Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
Professor Muntarbhorn has supported many APCOM initiatives and events, including our landmark regional Rights, Resources & Resilience Asia Pacific Summit, and our first HERO Awards in 2017. We asked him to share his thoughts on his work and his recent award.
What does it mean to be made an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE)?
I feel very humbled and honoured by the KBE award which was bestowed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and with a ceremony at the United Kingdom Embassy in Bangkok, kindly organised by His Excellency Ambassador Brian Davidson. I also see it as a tribute to everyone who works for human rights and democracy and I wish to pay tribute to them all.
What was your reaction to the news that the mandate of the UN Independent Expert On Violence And Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity (SOGI) was renewed by the UN Human Rights Council?I was very delighted and proud of the renewal of the mandate. The support for the mandate has also grown since its establishment. The mandate is an important voice to mobilise action to protect and assist the lives and livelihood of LGBTI people worldwide. I wish the current mandate-holder – Victor Madrigal-Borloz – and his team much strength and courage in this important work.
Could you remind us of your 6 ‘asks’ during your time as the UN Independent Expert, and why they are important for LGBTI rights in Asia Pacific?
At the inception of the UN mandate, I highlighted six key underpinnings which are still very pertinent today: decriminalisation of consensual same sex relations; effective anti-discrimination measures; recognition of gender identity; depathologisation of SOGI; sociocultural inclusion; education with empathy.
How do you think Thailand’s new government will respond to gender recognition for transgender people, and the civil partnership bill? What else could the Thai government do to demonstrate its commitment to advance the rights of LGBTI people?
I welcome the recent elections in Thailand. SOGI should be part of the policy agenda of every political party. It should also be seen as a non-partisan issue on which all parties can and should converge. The proposed Civil Union law should be supported for passage hopefully this year. Of course, other amendments of the law may be needed to comply with international standards. In addition to the Civil Union law, I would like to see a law to recognise gender identity. This should help transgender people reaffirm their gender and change their gender on identification and other documents, such as passports. We should not be bound by the biological sex attributed at birth if people feel that their gender is different. The medical sector should also be invited to help by depathologising SOGI.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Human rights are inherent to all persons, irrespective of their origin(s) and status. As part of the global family, let us respect the reality and beauty of human diversity based on that universality.