India, on Thursday, 7 July, abstained from voting for a UNHRC resolution to renew the mandate of independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
However, the resolution was ultimately adopted with 23 countries voting in favour, 17 against, and 7 abstentions.
In 2016 too, when the first resolution to create this post of independent expert was adopted, India had abstained from voting. At the time, the External Affairs Ministry cited the presence of Section 377, which criminalises "unnatural sex," as a reason for abstinence.
Two years later, after Section 377 was scrapped, the mandate came up for renewal in 2019. Despite being urged by various individuals and organisations, India abstained without providing an explanation.
In an open letter floated on 5 July, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies urged External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to vote in favour of the mandate. The letter read, "The legal scenario has changed dramatically since the time India abstained from voting in favour of this mandate. As such the changed constitutional, legal, social and political scenario, makes it incumbent on the Indian government to vote YES to renew the mandate of the independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity."
The letter also cited Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India, where the Supreme Court upheld the rights of LGBTQI persons as equal rights-bearing citizens, and NALSA vs Union of India where the apex court had "already recognised that transgender person had the right to self recognition of gender and that transgender persons were entitled to full constitutional rights."
A press release by UNHRC said, "The Council calls upon States to amend or repeal laws and policies that discriminate against certain persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and to take effective measures to prevent acts of violence and discrimination; decides to extend for a period of three years the mandate of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity; requests the Independent Expert to continue to report annually on the implementation of their mandate to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly."
The support for the madate has come from European countries, Latin America, and some Asian countries like Nepal, Japan, and Republic of Korea. Most south African countries have voted against the mandate, China, Pakistan, and UAE have also voted against. India, Poland, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Armenia and two other countries abstained.