Start main page content

South Africa encouraged to lead continent in recognising LGBTQ rights

- Lee-Anne Bruce

As human rights organisations within universities and civil society, we applaud the decision of the South African Government to support the appointment of an independent expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN).

The resolution put forward by Botswana sought to scupper this initiative and placed in question whether the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and those with other alternative sexual orientations and gender identities (LGBTQ) are in fact protected within the international human rights framework.

This resolution was particularly disturbing given the fact that it is quite clear that the human rights recognised at the international level apply to all individuals regardless of their differences which include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Bonita Meyersfeld, Director of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies stated that: ‘it is a great shame that individuals across the world – and sadly in many parts of the African continent – are persecuted simply because of their natural sexual orientations and gender identities. Whilst it is heartening that the majority of countries voted against this resolution, it remains saddening that a substantial number (77) still voted in favour of it’.

Last week, doubt was raised as to the position that South Africa would take on this resolution which was sponsored by the African group as it had failed to make its position clear. Towards the end of the week, the spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Clayson Monyela made clear South Africa’s intention to oppose the resolution by the Africa Group. Monyela indicated that “our diplomats cannot vote in a way that is contrary to the letter and spirit of our constitution. If that means voting against the Africa group to which we belong, that is exactly what we will do.”

Historically South Africa has been at the forefront of promoting the protection of the rights of LGBTI individuals both domestically and internationally. On 17 June 2011, South Africa led a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in requesting that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights draft a report “documenting discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity”. The report was subsequently accepted in 2014 and the High Commissioner was requested to share good practices on ways to overcome violence and discrimination for LGBTQ persons. In 2016, DIRCO signed the Ekurhuleni Declaration which that states that South Africa, “publicly condemns violence and other human rights abuses by state and non-state actors directed against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression”.

In light of this positive history, we call on South Africa to continue its leadership role in fighting against all forms of discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and to strengthen both local and international legal frameworks in this regard.

David Bilchitz, Director the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law, a Centre of the University of Johannesburg, summed up: ‘For all those committed to human rights, it is a matter of pressing concern that we find ways to alleviate the violation of the fundamental rights of LGBTQ persons in many parts of the world. South Africa has the moral authority to lead the way in the international arena and we hope it will assume the mantle of leadership in this arena.

  • Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), University of the Witwatersrand
  • South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC), University of Johannesburg