The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has taken the unusual step of urging the South African government to speak out against anti-gay legislation in Africa.
The SAHRC said in a statement that it is “concerned at the alarming growth of state-sanctioned homophobia taking place across the globe and particularly on the African continent.”
It also called on “the South African government to join other progressive governments in urging the Nigerian government to review its homophobic legislation.”
The SAHRC insisted that given the protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation guaranteed by its Constitution, “South Africa has an obligation to ensure other Africa countries comply with international human rights obligations.”
The commission said that South Africa missed an opportunity this past week to raise this issue at the 22nd African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where presidents from most African countries gathered to present country reports on progress to the African Peer Review Mechanism Forum.
“The SAHRC believes that the South African government must seek to exert influence over other African countries to follow good human rights practices in line with those countries’ commitments under international and regional laws and conventions including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which guarantees the right to freedom of expression (article 9), freedom of association (article 10), freedom of assembly (article 11), and the equality of all people (articles 2 and 3),” said Spokesperson Isaac Mangena.
The commission commented that the leadership expected of South Africa on this issue has been heightened following South Africa’s recent ascension to the UN Human Rights Council.
“The significance of South Africa’s appointment to serve on the Human Rights Council is that the country can exert influence to ensure international protection of fundamental rights, particularly within its African counterparts,” said Mangena.
The SAHRC’s call follows similar recent demands by the DA, the General Council of the Bar of South Africa and sexual health organisation Health4Men for the government speak out against African state homophobia.
In its recent World Report 2014, Human Rights Watch praised South Africa for introducing a precedent-setting 2011 resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on combating violence and discrimination against LGBT people, but noted that the country “has not played a decisive leadership role on this issue at the UN since then.”
There are at least 38 African states that have criminalised homosexuality. Nigeria became the latest country to promulgate anti-gay legislation following President Goodluck Johnathan’s decision to authorise a law that prohibits LGBT relationships, and bans public displays of affection between same-sex couples. Gay Nigerians face severe penalties including a 14 year jail term.