Dis­crim­i­na­tion un­der­mines eco­nomic growth and is un-African, writes

CityPress - - Voices - Mo­hamed is Africa di­rec­tor for the New York-head­quar­tered In­ter­na­tional Gay and Les­bian Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion. She is based in Jo­han­nes­burg

South Africa must be applauded for vot­ing in favour of the Res­o­lu­tion on Hu­man Rights, Sex­ual Ori­en­ta­tion and Gen­der Iden­tity adopted by the 27th ses­sion of the Hu­man Rights Coun­cil in Geneva last week. But while the res­o­lu­tion has been hailed as a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward in the fight against vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity, the bat­tle is far from over.

In many parts of the world, and es­pe­cially Africa, les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex (LGBTI) peo­ple face hos­til­ity, dis­crim­i­na­tion and dan­ger.

At least 80 coun­tries still crim­i­nalise con­sen­sual same-sex in­ti­macy and 37 of th­ese are in Africa. The death penalty can be im­posed in five coun­tries.

Even in South Africa, whose democ­racy was founded on the ba­sis of hu­man dig­nity, equal­ity and the ad­vance­ment of hu­man rights, and whose Con­sti­tu­tion ex­pressly pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity, LGBTI cit­i­zens are not safe.

While the dis­cus­sions on the res­o­lu­tion were tak­ing place in Geneva, South African au­thor­i­ties re­ported the bru­tal rape and mur­der of yet another les­bian, Them­be­lihle “Lihle” Sokela (28).

Am­bas­sador Ab­dul Sa­mad Minty, South Africa’s per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the UN, ac­knowl­edged that de­spite the en­abling laws, South Africans are still sub­jected to dis­crim­i­na­tion and vi­o­lence based on their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity.

He said the scale of the vi­o­lence had led the jus­tice depart­ment to es­tab­lish a hate crimes unit to deal with this sit­u­a­tion.

Minty said that, be­gin­ning in 2011, South Africa had taken the lead on var­i­ous UN ini­tia­tives be­cause of the belief that “no per­son should fear for their safety or be de­prived of their dig­nity be­cause of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity”.

Ad­dress­ing the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly re­cently, Min­is­ter of So­cial De­vel­op­ment Batha­bile Dlamini en­cour­aged African coun­tries to ad­here to the Ad­dis Ababa Dec­la­ra­tion of the African Union (AU), which states that sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive rights can never be di­vorced from the pur­suit of gen­der equal­ity and eq­uity.

Again, South Africa must be applauded for its lead­er­ship on this is­sue at the global level. Now it must work to bring the rest of the con­ti­nent along.

This will not be easy but it must be ac­com­plished if South Africa has to con­sol­i­date its le­git­i­macy as a hu­man rights de­fender and re­main true to its his­tory and the prin­ci­ples on which it was founded.

As Dlamini rightly pointed out, the dec­la­ra­tion makes a crit­i­cal con­nec­tion be­tween rights, de­vel­op­ment and ser­vices by es­tab­lish­ing that it is not

As soon as South Africa brings up the is­sue of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity rights, many in the Africa group see South Africa as be­ing crazy and refuse to en­gage

pos­si­ble to choose be­tween rights and de­vel­op­ment as one can­not be achieved with­out the other.

As the eco­nomic pow­er­house on the con­ti­nent, South Africa’s for­eign pol­icy chal­lenge over the long term in Africa is to avoid sep­a­rat­ing LGBTI rights from hu­man rights and eco­nomic ad­vance­ment.

It must be noted that LGBTI rights are not sep­a­rate or spe­cial. They are ba­sic hu­man rights guar­an­teed to ev­ery one of us.

In Africa, th­ese rights must be linked to other pri­or­i­ties such as ef­fec­tive pub­lic health poli­cies and ef­fi­cient business prac­tices.

South Africa must show lead­er­ship on the con­ti­nent, start­ing with its own sit­u­a­tion at home, by en­sur­ing that all al­leged at­tacks on LGBTI peo­ple are fully, in­de­pen­dently and fairly in­ves­ti­gated, and that per­pe­tra­tors are brought to jus­tice.

We should recog­nise that many African coun­tries have a love-hate re­la­tion­ship with South Africa.

An African diplo­mat at the UN told me ear­lier this year: “As soon as South Africa brings up the is­sue of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity rights, many in the Africa group see South Africa as be­ing crazy and refuse to en­gage.”

But it’s not enough for South African diplo­mats to try to per­suade their African coun­ter­parts at the UN

alone. Pro­gres­sive African lead­ers must also en­gage through the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity and the AU to per­suade fel­low Africans that ex­clud­ing and dis­crim­i­nat­ing against LGBTI cit­i­zens un­der­mines eco­nomic growth and is “unAfrican”, es­pe­cially in light of the con­ti­nent’s his­tory of op­pres­sion on the ba­sis of race. At an event fo­cused jointly on LGBTI rights and end­ing ex­treme poverty in Africa, which was co-spon­sored by the US Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment and held on the side­lines of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York, Nobel lau­re­ate Arch­bishop Des­mond Tutu said: “This is not just a right­eous and moral vi­sion. It is prag­matic too.

“If you man­age to lift the most dis­en­fran­chised of mem­bers out of the clutches of ex­treme poverty, it makes sense to mar­shal all avail­able hu­man cap­i­tal.

“It makes as lit­tle sense to ex­clude bril­liant sci­en­tists or ar­chi­tects or teach­ers from con­tribut­ing to hu­man de­vel­op­ment on the ba­sis that they have large noses, as it does to ex­clude them on the ba­sis that they are gay or les­bian.”


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