South Africa has embarrassingly chosen to abstain in a vote to grant consultative status to two gay rights groups in the UN, through the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Despite this, the groups, Coalition gaie et lesbienne du Québec (CGLQ) and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL), received enough votes to be granted consultative status.

They will be able to use their new position at the UN to work directly on human rights and other issues of importance to the LGBT community by ensuring access to UN meetings, delivery of oral and written reports, and organising events to facilitate understanding of the abuse and discrimination that LGBT people face around the world.

ECOSOC consists of 54 member states of the United Nations, drawn from the five UN regions: Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the West. A sufficient number of states voted on Friday to overturn a previous negative decision by the ECOSOC’s NGO committee and to accredit the LGBT groups.

Despite its constitutional clause specifically granting equality on the basis of sexual orientation, South Africa joined the majority of African countries in abstaining or voting against the two NGOs. Of the 14 African countries in the Council, only Guinea-Bissau chose to vote for the gay rights groups.

“We’re very disappointed in the stance that South Africa government has taken in this regard. It’s not staying in synch with what the constitution stands for. There is an element of hypocrisy in their action,” said Vista Kalipa, Media Coordinator for Cape Town’s Triangle Project.

Three other European LGBT NGOs were previously granted consultative status by ECOSOC in December 2006: The Danish National Association for Gay and Lesbians (LBL), The European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europe), and the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD).

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