Deputy President Paul Mashatile says the government will try to “persuade” Uganda to uphold LGBTQIA+ human rights
Deputy President Paul Mashatile has finally outlined the South African government’s position on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill in parliament.
Mashatile responded to several questions in the National Assembly on Thursday. GOOD MP Brett Herron asked if South Africa is planning a peace mission to Uganda to address “the potential human rights crisis that is unfolding” due to the draconian legislation.
The deputy president stated that, in line with the constitution, the government strongly believes that the rights of LGBTQIA+ people are human rights. Mashatile also pointed out that 67 countries around the world criminalise same-sex sexual activity.
“This gives you an idea of the enormity of the challenge at hand. The matter under discussion concerns many countries throughout the world with whom you must engage persuasively to recognise the rights of LGBTQIA+ people,” he said.
“We must endeavor to persuade because the fact that the 67 countries in question criminalise LGBTQIA+ people is indicative of the truism that our outlook and our laws are not universal. We cannot therefore impose our will on other countries; we have to engage,” Mashatile argued.
“The government will continue to engage nationally and internationally about the moral and political need to respect the rights of LGBTQIA+ people in bilateral and other fora,” he added.
DA MP Emma Powell challenged Mashatile “to stand at the podium and openly condemn Uganda’s state-sponsored homophobia.”
He responded: “Am I prepared to condemn? I am prepared to engage. I think it is the most constructive way. Thank you very much; we’ll be engaging them.”
In a statement, Herron welcomed “the clear commitment made by Deputy President Paul Mashatile to persuade and engage Uganda on its dangerous Anti-Homosexuality Bill.”
He said that while Mashatile did not agree with GOOD that South Africa – “with its own history of human rights abuses and reliance on international support” – should take a more active role in the matter, Mashatile “did acknowledge that LGBTQIA+ rights are human rights and are universal.”
“This is a small step but at least signals a commitment to not simply stand by and watch if and when LGBTQIA+ lives will be endangered.” Herron expressed hope that “this engagement and persuasion are more effective than ‘quiet diplomacy’ was with Zimbabwe and that it will lead to better outcomes for the people of Uganda.”
South Africa has long been criticised for not being more vocal in openly condemning human rights abuses against LGBTQIA+ people on the continent and by allies such as Russia.
The Ugandan Parliament passed a second version of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on May 2nd. It retains its most severe provisions, including life in prison for engaging in a homosexual sexual act, the death penalty for aggravated homosexuality (e.g., serial “offenders”), and 20 years in prison for the “promotion” of homosexuality.
The bill is still awaiting President Yoweri Museveni’s signature to become law.