The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva

Activists are concerned about the intentions of a resolution on LGBT rights proposed by South Africa at the UN last week.

The resolution was put forward by South Africa apparently to address concerns by it and other African countries that the concept of sexual orientation is not sufficiently “defined” under international law.

The resolution aims to establish an “intergovernmental process” at the UN General Assembly and in the Human Rights Council to clearly define “the issue of sexual orientation”.

While the government has claimed that the idea is a positive step forward, activists are not convinced. They have questioned why such a definition is required and also worry that, while the concept is being defined, all discussions and measures on LGBT issues will be put on hold at the UN. They add that this process could take years.

“If enormous hate crimes happen, as in Uganda, then the UN can’t investigate. It must first decide what sexual orientation means,” activist Zackie Achmat told the Mail and Guardian.

According to Sandra Pires, Lobbying & Engagement Senior Officer at Every Human Has Rights, “this draft resolution is a thinly veiled attempt to split sexual orientation off from the established body of human rights. If it is understood that issues of sexually orientation are already covered by the well established human rights protecting individual liberty, privacy, etc. then there is no need for a working group to discuss such rights as they pertain to sexual orientation.”

She told SA GLAAD that the resolution in essence suggests that LGBT rights are not part of generally accepted human rights and must be defined as a new kind of right. She warned that the process of defining sexual orientation at the UN could become bogged down in debate and bureaucracy and “could potentially never end”.

Christina Engela of SA GLAAD, claims that “the Pink Community around the world and in SA is being sold down the river by our own government – which is committing this and similar acts in complete violation of the SA Constitution to which it is obligated by law to uphold and abide by.”

She added: “If the SA government truly supports the human rights of the Pink Community it would act like it, instead of introducing an open-ended caucus designed to separate us from the concept of human rights yet again and attempt to invalidate already accepted and clearly defined definitions and terms.”

Members of the LGBT community have been urged to urgently send the below letter to relevant parties to express their concern about the resolution.

Subject: Letter of Objection: South Africa’s expedient resolution at the UNHRC to undermine LGBT rights

To whom it may concern

I write today to display my grave concern for South Africa’s motion at the UNHRC in Geneva which seems to undermine human rights protections in a profound way. The human rights at stake here are non-discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity inter alia.

What baffles me immensely is that the SA contingent could deem these rights as somehow “new” when the Constitution has been in place for about 15 years now, protecting these vulnerable groups. Parliament also enacted the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, Act 4 of 2000, which further protects LGBT individuals.

What is new, however, is the diplomatic expedience to cosy up to states that have absolutely no regard for human rights, let alone LGBT (Pink) rights.

Should this resolution pass it would undo decades of work, undermine LGBT rights in International Law and undermine the very Constitution that South African office bearers have a duty to uphold.

To quote Christina Engela of SA GLAAD:

“One would expect a country governed by people who experienced for so long the pain of segregation and oppression of one by another to have learned from the mistakes of the past – instead of striving continually to repeat them. This act, intended to derail human rights work at the UN and to sideline and isolate the Pink Community from inclusion in mainstream human rights laws, is an outrage – and an outright embarrassment, and a crying shame!”

I thus respectfully call upon you to halt this motion at the UNHRC in Geneva and to live up to your constitutional obligations.

Please see an article by the Mail & Guardian of Friday 25 March 2011 on this topic:

Kind regards

*your name*

It is suggested that the letter be e-mailed to the following e-mail addresses:


Please also Cc:,,,,,,,,,

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