The national Joint Working Group (JWG) has expressed its dismay that the South African delegation to the UN Economic and Social Council [ECOSOC] chose to abstain in a vote to recognise two international gay rights organisations on Friday, last week.

“South Africa has reneged on its responsibility to take a stand on international human rights, specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said JWG in a statement. In a July 2006 vote on the same matter, South Africa also abstained.

The most recent abstention came in the face of a special appeal by the JWG to the Minister and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, amongst others, “to exercise moral courage in making and acting on the decision about how to vote on this critical matter.”

“Instead of signaling a clear message in support of fairness and non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, South Africa sat on the fence. In this instance, fence-sitting is tantamount to turning a blind eye to ongoing human rights abuses on the grounds of sexual orientation throughout the world,” said JWG.

The JWG welcomed the fact that, despite South Africa’s abstention, the two NGOs were granted accreditation as they address important human rights issues, adding that “This is even more pressing in the context of human rights violations committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including in our own country.”

It also commended Guinea-Bissau – the only African country to vote in favour of the two organisations: “However we as South Africans have been failed by our government as we believe that no rational or convincing reasons were provided to support South Africa’s position. As a country we have been shamed by the choice of policy makers and we can claim no part of this important victory for advancing the rights of the severely marginalised LGBTI community nationally and internationally. This marks a sad point in our democracy.”

The organisation went on to say that, “In light of the brutal murders in Soweto two weeks ago, of two lesbian women – both human rights defenders – and a list of other crimes of rape and murders against LGBTI people in this country, the decision to abstain is even more puzzling and outrageous.”

“Lesbian women and gay men continue to die in South Africa, as a result of hate crimes. Are our leaders going to ‘abstain’ on this matter too?,” the organisation asked.

The Joint Working Group is a national network of South African lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex organisations and partners.

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