South Africa has joined more than 80 countries in signing a joint statement condemning “acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity”, according to the US Mission to the UN.
The country’s move will come as a relief for LGBT activists who feared that South Africa would not support the statement in solidarity with African countries that are widely opposed to LGBT equality.
It is sobering to realise that South Africa was one of only four African countries to sign the statement. The other three were the Central African Republic, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
“We call on states to take steps to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” reads one of the points in the declaration.
The statement was signed at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesay by 84 countries; reflecting an increase in support compared to a similar 2008 UN declaration on homosexuality which then secured only 66 signatories.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) welcomed the declaration, noting that the amount of countries willing to sign on to a declaration like this is approaching a majority of UN members.
Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, said that the statement was “a historic moment to state clearly that human rights apply to everyone, no matter who they are or whom they love”.
She added: “In Geneva, our conversations about the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals with countries where sexual orientation is not only stigmatised, but criminalised, are helping to advance a broader and deeper global dialogue about these issues.”
The British government also welcomed the declaration. “I am delighted that this statement has attracted such widespread support from a broad cross-regional group of countries. Over 80 countries have signed up to this statement – the highest ever number of signatories to a UN statement on LGBT issues” said Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne.
“This shows the determination of the international community to draw attention to the particularly difficult human rights situation faced by many people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It goes without question that all States must provide an equal level of recognition and protection to all their citizens.”
Below is the full text of the statement.
Joint statement on ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation & gender identity
1. We recall the previous joint statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, presented at the Human Rights Council in 2006;
2. We express concern at continued evidence in every region of acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity brought to the Council’s attention by Special Procedures since that time, including killings, rape, torture and criminal sanctions;
3. We affirm the General Assembly joint statement of December 18, 2008 on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, supported by States from all five regional groups, and encourage States to join the statement;
4. We commend the attention paid to these issues by international human rights mechanisms including relevant Special Procedures and treaty bodies and welcome continued attention to human rights issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity within the context of the Universal Periodic Review. As the United Nations Secretary General reminded us in his address to this Council at its Special Sitting of 25 January 2011, the Universal Declaration guarantees all human beings their basic rights without exception, and when individuals are attacked, abused or imprisoned because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the international community has an obligation to respond;
5. We welcome the positive developments on these issues in every region in recent years, such as the resolutions on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity adopted by consensus in each of the past three years by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, the initiative of the Asia-Pacific Forum on National Human Rights Institutions to integrate these issues within the work of national human rights institutions in the region, the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the increasing attention being paid to these issues by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and the many positive legislative and policy initiatives adopted by States at the national level in diverse regions;
6. We note that the Human Rights Council must also play its part in accordance with its mandate to “promote universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without discrimination of any kind, and in a fair and equal manner” (GA 60/251, OP 2);
7. We acknowledge that these are sensitive issues for many, including in our own societies. We affirm the importance of respectful dialogue, and trust that there is common ground in our shared recognition that no-one should face stigmatisation, violence or abuse on any ground. In dealing with sensitive issues, the Council must be guided by the principles of universality and non-discrimination;
8. We encourage the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue to address human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to explore opportunities for outreach and constructive dialogue to enhance understanding and awareness of these issues within a human rights framework;
9. We recognise our broader responsibility to end human rights violations against all those who are marginalised and take this opportunity to renew our commitment to addressing discrimination in all its forms;
10. We call on States to take steps to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, encourage Special Procedures, treaty bodies and other stakeholders to continue to integrate these issues within their relevant mandates, and urge the Council to address these important human rights issues.