Shamefully, South Africa has again refused to support efforts to highlight discrimination against LGBT people as a legitimate human rights issue at the United Nations.

According to Jerry Matjila, South Africa’s official representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the inclusion of sexual orientation in a report on racism and intolerance “demeans the legitimate plight of the victims of racism”.

He made the comment on Tuesday following the presentation of the report by Githu Muigai, the UN Rapporteur on “contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”.

Muigai said in his report that “the identity of each individual is made up of a multitude of components, such as gender, age, nationality, profession, sexual orientation, political opinion, religious affiliation and social origin”.

This notion was rejected by South Africa to the dismay of human rights defenders at the UN.

The South African government has previously sought to distance homophobia from racism, refusing to see these as equally legitimate human rights issues.

In February 2009, South Africa acted as spokesperson for African nations demanding the removal of references to sexual orientation from the draft declaration of the second UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

Although primarily focused on issues of race, many who took part in that conference had the view that all forms of discrimination are related. In this spirit, a section was included in the declaration which condemned “all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation”.

South Africa objected to this provision on the grounds that this went “beyond the framework” of the original declaration, and the section was removed from the document.

In December 2008 South Africa also refused to sign a symbolic UN declaration which called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, despite the country’s constitution that specifically outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

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