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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

UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES - 2016/02/22: CoI member, Vitit Muntarbhorn speaks with the UN press corps. In conjunction with the delivery of one of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria's periodic reports to the United Nations General Assembly, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission, and Commission member Vitit Muntarbhorn spoke at a press conference at UN Headquarters, outlining the status of human rights concerns at present. (Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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

TOPSHOT - An Indonesian man (C), one of two to be publicly caned for having sex, is caned in Banda Aceh on May 23, 2017. The pair, aged 20 and 23, were found guilty of having broken sharia rules in conservative Aceh province -- the only part of Indonesia that implements Islamic law -- and sentenced to 85 strokes of the cane each. / AFP PHOTO / CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN (Photo credit should read 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.

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