UN LGBTI rights watchdog engages with South African activists


South African LGBTI activists gathered in Johannesburg to meet United Nations Independent Expert, Graeme Reid

Graeme Reid, the newly-appointed United Nations Independent Expert on the Prevention of Violence and Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), recently met with LGBTI activists in Johannesburg.

Hosted by the Other Foundation, the gathering on Tuesday, December 12, drew representatives from various groups, including Iranti, Intersex South Africa, GALA, OUT LGBT Well-being, and The Fruit Basket. Activists from organisations such as Gender Dynamix joined the meeting online.

The South African-born Reid is the third person to hold the position, which was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 amidst considerable opposition.

The engagement provided an opportunity for activists to share their perspectives on the changing regional context, understand Reid’s approach to executing his mandate, and offer advice and support.

Reid expressed his commitment to the process, stating, “I’ve been in this role since the first week of November, and so what I want to do in this initial period is precisely this, to hear from others about their areas of priorities.”

Focus on Intersex Rights and Global Challenges

Activists highlighted several key areas of importance, with a particular emphasis on intersex rights locally and globally. Crystal Hendricks from Intersex South Africa addressed concerns about intersex individuals being denied bodily autonomy and used as tools for anti-LGBTI agendas.

Reid acknowledged the impact of the growing “anti-gender” movement on various aspects of LGBTI human rights globally. He underscored that this movement is well coordinated and much better funded than the LGBTI rights sector.

“It is also much more sophisticated and much more strategic, and operating in spaces which historically we haven’t been operating in the past and using the language and mechanisms of human rights to undermine rights and this is very disturbing and challenging,” he commented.

Graeme Reid (centre) told activists that their feedback would help inform the areas he’ll focus on as the Independent Expert (Photo: Intersex South Africa) 

LGBTI Refugees and Hate Crimes

Thomars Shamuyarira from The Fruit Basket highlighted the challenges faced by LGBTI refugees seeking asylum in South Africa due to oppression in their home countries. “There is no provision made for Ugandan refugees by the South African government. The system is broken,” he said.

The discussion also touched upon the need for a unified strategic approach by civil society in addressing LGBTI hate crimes and the lack of accurate reporting on these incidents.

Concerns were raised about the South African government’s capacity and resources to effectively implement the recently passed hate crimes and hate speech bill, particularly given the ongoing dysfunction of hate crimes task teams.

A Commitment to LGBTI Human Rights

Reid expressed gratitude for the activists’ input, assuring them that their feedback would help inform the areas and subjects he will focus on in his role.

He also acknowledged the extraordinary activism by the international civil society sector that led to the establishment of the Independent SOGI Expert in the UN. Reid emphasised the role’s symbolic significance in embedding within the UN system the reality that LGBTI rights are human rights.

“Many States still claim that the human rights of LGBTI persons don’t belong in the terrain of human rights but belong in the terrain of culture, tradition and morality,” he commented.

Reid said there is no room for complacency and noted the ongoing threat to his role’s existence, highlighting the opposition it faces during the renewal of the mandate every three years.

Despite the challenges, Reid encouraged a positive outlook, recognising the substantial achievements and successes in the realm of LGBTI rights. “I try to remind myself when things don’t look too good, to look in the long term. And if we look over the decades, the progress has been uneven, it’s been inconsistent, but it’s unmistakably there,” he said.

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