Human rights groups have written to the South African government insisting that it support a pending resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity at the 27th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.
The resolution, sponsored by Chile, Uruguay, Colombia and Brazil, is a follow-up to the landmark 2011 resolution on Violence and Discrimination on the basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which South Africa championed at the UNHRC three years ago.
That resolution led to a ground-breaking report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on “discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The new resolution simply calls for the Commissioner to update the report and to do so every two years. It is expected to be voted on later this week at the UNHRC.
There have, however, been troubling indications from Geneva that South Africa has not only declined to be part of the group sponsoring the new resolution but may also fail to vote in its favour or support weakening its impact.
In two letters, human rights groups have written to Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane insisting that South Africa vote in favour of the current version of the resolution.
“Naturally a vote against this resolution would be contrary to South Africa’s foreign policy and constitutional mandate. An abstention would be seen in a similar light: a failure to speak up and show the commitment to the human rights of all people,” reads the text of one of the letters.
The groups also express concern that South Africa may support plans for a possible amendment that would cynically strip the resolution of all language on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It is deeply concerning that the South African government has stalled on its international obligations with regard to LGBTI human rights since 2011,” commented Dawie Nel, Director of OUT, the LGBT health and well-being group in Tshwane that has signed on to one of the letters.
“The government has not only failed to host its promised regional summit on LGBTI human rights but now could be considering backtracking on its own good work. Not supporting the resolution will be a devastating blow to efforts to improve the plight of LGBTI people around the world, and in Africa in particular,” Nel explained in a statement.
He added: “South Africa’s failure to act would bolster African states that continue to criminalise homosexuality and those that plan to increase and worsen penalties against LGBTI people simply for who they love or because of their gender identity.”
Three years ago South Africa and Brazil co-sponsored a historic resolution encouraging the UN to discuss discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Despite South Africa’s leadership on this critical global issue there is, as of yet, no clear indication of how SA will vote on a new SOGI resolution tabled at the 27th Session UN Human Rights Council last week. By MARIANNE THAMM.
In the same week that LGBTI activists from across the globe were discussing a SOGI resolution tabled by Uruguay, Chile and Brazil at the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, another lesbian was found murdered in Johannesburg, highlighting, once again, the crucial need to address the issue of gender and sexual orientation-based violence.
On 14 September, Thembelihe ‘Lihle’ Sokhela (28) went missing in Daveytown and was found murdered two days later, hidden behind a bed in the home of a suspect who has since been arrested. She had been brutally battered, raped and smothered. The suspect, who had been released on parole in 2012 after serving a sentence for rape and murder, will appear in court in Benoni on 26 September.
Investigating the murder, members of Iranti-org, a queer human rights visual media organisation based in Johannesburg, found that Daveytown police had failed to gather crucial evidence from the scene and will be tracking the progress of the case through the police system and the courts.
It was precisely for this reason that the Department of Justice in 2011 set up a task team to develop an intervention strategy as well as a rapid response mechanism that would identify and track cases such as Sokhela’s. While activists welcomed its establishment at the time, it appears the task team has accomplished little that is concrete or tangible since.
The resolution tabled at the 27th session of the HRC in Geneva by Uruguay, Chile and Brazil, and calling on the High Commissioner to report bi-annually as well as focus on violence in relation to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity globally, will be voted on in the next few days. And while South Africa has shown international leadership on the issue, introducing a groundbreaking resolution with Brazil in 2011, local LGBTI activists remain uncertain as to how South Africa will vote this time around.
This week, in response to the lack of clarity on the vote, a group of concerned South African-based NGOs wrote to Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha and Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, urging them to support the SOGI resolution, a key human rights resolution.
“Naturally a vote against this resolution would be contrary to South Africa’s foreign policy and constitutional mandate. An abstention would be seen in a similar light: a failure to speak up and show the commitment to the human rights of all people. In that vein, we also vehemently oppose the bringing of, or support for, procedural measures at the Council that prevent issues being discussed and/or voted-on. This is an issue on which we need more – not less – discussion at the Council,” the letter to the Ministers reads.
At the 26th session of the UN HRC, over 500 civil society organisations stressed that the council needed urgently to adopt a resolution ensuring regular reporting, constructive dialogue and sustained and systematic attention to the breadth of human rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“South Africa’s historical experience shows how damaging policy can be when issues of principle are sacrificed to economic and political expediency. We cannot let other national interests or political concerns cloud our principled position on fundamental human rights,” the statement reads.
“Unfortunately, all attempts to engage the Depart of International Relations and Cooperation [DIRCO] have as yet been unsuccessful,” a statement by the campaign organisers reads.