Jerry Matjila (Pic: ILO)

The head of South Africa’s international relations department has affirmed that the country will support LGBTI equality around the world.

Jerry Matjila, who was appointed as Director-General of International Relations and Co-operation in May, told IOL that “the president and the minister (of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane) have told every one of our diplomats that ‘the Bill of Rights is your Bible.’”

He added: “We have a vision to create a better world with more justice and more human rights”.

Until relatively recently the South African government had been criticised for siding with homophobic African countries in issues relating to LGBTI rights.

This changed in June when South Africa, led by Matjila, tabled a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva which condemned “violence and discrimination… committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity”.

The ground-breaking resolution was passed on 17 June. It is said to be the first resolution specifically affirming the rights of LGBTI people to have been adopted by the UN.

Matjila admitted that the country’s position on the issue at the UN had “ruffled the feathers” of other African governments.

He noted that most of the criminalisation of homosexuality in Africa came about through legislation enacted by colonial powers. “When the colonialists changed, we didn’t change the penal codes. Now we say it’s ‘culture’,” Matjila said.

According to IOL, Matjila will return to Geneva to chair a UN Human Rights Council working group on ending human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which is being set up as a result of South Africa’s resolution.

Matjila holds a Masters Degree from the University of Stratclyede, Glasgow, Scotland and also holds Diplomas in Diplomatic Training from Belgium, France, Germany, and Norway.

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