Human Rights Watch (HRW) has applauded South Africa for its leadership on gay rights internationally, but said that it must do more to protect its own LGBT citizens.

In a submission on South Africa’s human rights status to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the New-York based organisation applauded the country for initiating the adoption of the first-ever UN resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in June last year.

“This action affirmed South Africa’s endorsement of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people worldwide,” said HRW.

However, the group noted that greater efforts are still needed to ensure such protection at the national level.

“Like sexual assaults of women in general, rapes and other violence against lesbians and gender non-conforming people have reached alarming levels in South Africa. Black lesbians and transgender men in particular face worrying challenges and many live in constant fear for their lives,” said HRW.

It recommended that the country do the following to improve the lives of its LGBT people:

• Require the police services to enforce monitoring and disciplinary measures against police personnel who harass, intimidate, or abuse complainants, with specific focus on women and members of the LGBT community;

• Require the police services, in collecting data on physical and sexual violence, to label the data by motive to track incidents of homophobic and trans-phobic violence;

• Work with the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure that cases of sexual and physical violence against women and transgender persons come to trial in a timely manner, and that prosecutors prioritise cases involving sexual offences.

HRW also expressed its concern about the recent passing of the controversial Protection of State Information Bill in parliament and continued threats by the ANC to establish a Media Appeals Tribunal.

It said that these were “a concerning development for media freedom” in South Africa. It called for the suspension of the Protection of State Information Bill, and for further consultations and amendments of the legislation.

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