Steve Letsike, Director of Access Chapter 2
Update 11/11/2016: South Africa’s Department of International Relations has categorically denied that it supports efforts to suspend the recently appointed UN LGBT watchdog. Details here.
Local LGBTI activists are outraged at South Africa’s support for the Africa Group’s attempt to suspend the UN Human Rights Council’s appointment of a global LGBTI watchdog.
South Africa has signed onto a statement delivered by Botswana at the General Assembly last week supporting the suspension of the first Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Vitit Muntarbhorn.
The statement justifies this with claims that the expert will interfere in the domestic sovereignty of countries, that singling out sexual orientation and gender identity is a means to ignore other human rights issues, such as racism, and that these “notions” should not be linked “to existing international human rights instruments”.
LGBTI rights groups Access Chapter 2 said that “South Africa’s endorsement of this letter betrays the South African Constitution, the African Charter, and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights”.
A vote to suspend Muntarbhorn, who was only appointed in September, as well as the Human Rights Council Resolution 32/2 that created the position, is expected to be held in the General Assembly as early as Tuesday this week.
Access Chapter 2’s Director Steve Letsike rejected the country’s solidarity with the Africa Group “at the cost of lives”. She also pointed out that the move to suspend the Human Rights Council resolution “questions the mandate of the Human Rights Council” and endangers the “integrity and independence of the Human Rights Council and its decisions”.
The Love Not Hate campaign, a national network of groups working against LGBTI hate crimes, said it was “shocked” by reports of South Africa’s position on the matter.
“South Africa is supposed to be in the forefront when it comes to LGBTI rights and other human rights in Africa,” commented Lerato Phalakatshela, Hate Crime Manager at OUT LGBT-Well-being and spokesperson for the Love Not Hate Campaign.
“What hurts the most is that DIRCO (Department of International Relations and Cooperation) meets with civil society organisations for discussions on these issues and then ends up betraying the movement and progress at international fora. This is not what we were expecting from them,” he added.
The groups called on the South African government to vote against suspending Resolution 32/2 and to support the important work of the Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.