The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva

While South Africa signed Tuesday’s UN resolution on violence against LGBT people, it also told the UN that the “issue of sexual orientation needs to be clearly defined”.

The country was praised, as only one of four African countries, for joining 83 other nations in signing the joint statement condemning “acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity” at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

However, in support of other African nations, South Africa told the Council that it had some reservations about signing the statement.

According to Luvuyo Ndimeni, Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, South Africa’s past reluctance to support similar statements regarding LGBT rights in 2006 and 2008 lies with “procedural concerns”.

“At the national level, sexual orientation is not a new issue for South Africa, which was already addressed in the 1955 Freedom Charter which indicated that South Africa should be a non-racist, non-sexist society, among others,” said Ndimeni, reading out a statement to the Council.

But, he said, “the issue of sexual orientation needs to be clearly defined”. He added: “…the issue of sexual orientation is sensitive and impacts on a whole range of issues including culture and religion. South Africa firmly believes that this issue should be addressed openly, transparently and inclusively.”

Other African countries claimed it was because sexual orientation and gender identity are “undefined in the international human rights system” that they rejected the UN statement.

Ndimeni then called for an intergovernmental process at the UN General Assembly and in the Human Rights Council, to clearly define “the issue of sexual orientation” so as “to respect the established procedures and practices of the United Nations General Assembly in the elaboration on new norms and standards and their subsequent integration into existing international human rights law”.

South Africa’s full statement was also published on the website of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.

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