South Africa, Which Once Led On Promoting LGBT Rights Abroad, Could Become A Roadblock
KAMPALA, UGANDA (13 October 2014) The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) mourns the loss of another Doctor, Dr. John Taban Dada who died due to Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa. Dr. Dada, a Ugandan national, succumbed to the Disease on 9th October 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. By the time of his death, Dr. Dada was working at Liberia’s largest hospital, JF Kennedy Memorial Center, and was consulting with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation partner in HIV service provision, People Associated for People’s Assistance (PAPA).
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has continued a persistent spread pushing the death toll over 4,000 as of 9th October 2014. Having been declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization, Ebola Virus Disease has infected over 370 health workers and killed 216 doctors and nurses. In July, Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, 39, who served as Medical Officer for AHF’s Sierra Leone Country Program, succumbed to the disease after being quarantined and cared for by medical providers from Médecins Sans Frontières at the isolation unit in the Kailahun District in Eastern Sierra Leone for several days. In Liberia, Dr. Dada’s death brought to four (4) the number of Doctors who have died since the outbreak.
“Our brothers and sisters in West Africa need accelerated action by commissions such as the African Union and the World Health Organization to expand provision of appropriate and adequate personal protective equipment, mobilize and deploy more health workers in the region, and increase and equip more isolation centers specifically established to cater for infected health workers,” said Dr. Penninah Iutung Amor, the AHF Bureau Chief for the African Region. “All these are achievable – but only if the commissions and the World Health Organization prioritize and scale up addressing obstacles that are holding us back in the response.”
There was hope late September when President Obama pledged support to the EVD response in the region however the actualization of this support has been delayed due to logistical challenges — inadequate human resources for health, poor state of the runway at the airport, and delays in setting up new isolation centers. “Since we have few isolation centers, we are seeing some people suffering from Ebola re-circulating into the community and therefore driving the infection further,” said Chinnie Sieh, Program Manager with People Associated for People’s Assistance (PAPA). “This is a crisis that requires all the Africa Commissions, the United Nations, all African governments and non-government actors to respond.”
“It is high time that the containment of this outbreak became a reality in the West African Countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia,” said Dr. Lydia Buzaalirwa, the Director for Quality Management with AIDS Healthcare Foundation Africa Bureau. “Everybody needs to take part in the control of Ebola. We need to cut the chain of new transmissions, get in more volunteers, more logistics, and communities should be involved in building new isolation units. We demand that the African Union step up its leadership and exponentially accelerate its response to the Ebola outbreak in the region.”
By The AIDS Healthcare Foundation
The sexual and reproductive health rights of young marginalized populations are often neglected and their collective voice in this critical area not always heard. To try to redress this imbalance young people from marginalized communities and key populations in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Puerto Rico and Uganda met in New York this week to discuss how to put these rights issues firmly on the post-2015 development agenda, leaving no one behind.
Taking place on 25 September, the General Assembly side event which took the form of a panel discussion, examined the vital role of community engagement, advocacy and service delivery in protecting the rights and meeting the needs of young key populations. These include men who have sex with men, sex workers and young people living with HIV.
Young speakers, who were peer educators, directors of national and regional NGOs, actors and community leaders, argued that universal access to HIV services and health coverage could not be achieved without prioritizing the needs of the most marginalized. They also noted the contribution of comprehensive sexuality education to improving young people’s health and the role that communities can play in both promoting rights and challenging stigma and discrimination.
The event was hosted by the Government of Brazil and organized by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, GESTOS, the Global Youth Coalition on AIDS, ATHENA, ICASO, International Civil Society Support, STOP AIDS NOW!, Stop AIDS Alliance, the HIV Young Leaders Fund, the African Services Committee, and the Global Forum on MSM and HIV, in collaboration with UNAIDS.
"Setting goals is only part of the story. Where we should look for change is the way that we will implement the goals. We need to change the way we are doing business and craft the space for civil society in the new post-2015 agenda."
Luiz Loures, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director
“We are talking about development here and sexual and reproductive rights are development."
Pablo Aguilera, HIV Young Leaders Fund
26 September 2014
For the last three years, AIDS Accountability International’s (AAI) work to stimulate greater accountability from funding partners – particularly the Global Fund – has focused on countries in Southern Africa. Based on the impact and successes of that work and its publication as good practice (Oberth, 2013; Oberth, 2014), AAI has partnered with vested stakeholders in Kenya, Tanzania (Mainland and Zanzibar) and Uganda to scale up our work to East Africa and ensure that the Global Fund is accountable to women, young girls and LGBT communities there.
In August 2014, Daniel Molokele (Deputy Executive Director) and Gemma Oberth (Senior Researcher) represented AAI in three different national and regional forums to promote greater transparency around Global Fund country dialogue.
The AAI team started in Kenya where we were brought in as technical partners to facilitate civil society country dialogue for Kenya’s upcoming HIV/TB concept note to the Global Fund (to be submitted 15 January 2015). As impartial and unbiased facilitators, AAI is able to draw out key priorities from various marginalized groups, including MSM, sex workers, people with disabilities, the TB community and other civil society representatives. The workshop was a national level training for civil society focusing on the Global Fund and the use of data in planning for the New Funding Model. The training workshop was held from 20-22 August at Maanzoni Hotel, just outside Nairobi, and hosted by Aidspan, in partnership with various partners such as International HIV Alliance, EANNASO, KANCO, LVCT Health and KENAAM. The outcome of the workshop will be The Kenya Civil Society Priorities Charter, produced by AAI as part of an initiative we have led in eight African countries, in partnership with the Ford Foundation.
After supporting civil society in Kenya to set priorities for the Global Fund New Funding Model, AAI travelled to Zanzibar where we facilitated a multi-stakeholder Priorities Charter development workshop. AAI’s technical support was requested by the Secretariat of the Zanzibar Global Fund Country Coordinating Mechanism (ZGFCCM), based on our previous work supporting civil society and key populations dialogues (in partnership with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance) and developing the Zanzibar Civil Society Priorities Charter, an initiative led by AAI.
The multi stakeholder consultation in Zanzibar was held on 25 August 2014 and was attended by representatives from diverse sectors in Zanzibar that included government departments, civil society, key populations, development partners, academia and private sector. The outcome of this workshop will be the Zanzibar Key Stakeholder Priorities Charter, which AAI will produce based on the priorities set at the meeting. The Charter is intended to guide the concept note development process in Zanzibar for both their HIV/TB concept note and Malaria concept note (both to be submitted on 15 October 2015). Some of the top priorities among the key stakeholders were on issues around treatment, care and support, behaviour change and also on health systems strengthening, among others.
Lastly, from 26-28 August 2014, AAI travelled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to participate in a regional civil society meeting that was hosted by EANNASO. The meeting was attended by civil society members of CCMs across several countries in East Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania (Mainland and Zanzibar), Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia. The participants shared their experiences and lessons learnt from their active participation on CCMs, particularly focusing on civil society engagement in the concept note development process for the Global Fund New Funding Model. At the meeting, AAI conducted a session on Accountability Literacy, building the capacity of the delegates to hold other CCM members accountable through greater transparency, dialogue and action. A key outcome of the meeting was the launch of a regional civil society CCM forum and also the election of steering Committee.
The AAI team was impressed with the level of commitment and support from the various partners across East Africa and now looks forward to developing more opportunities for programme partnerships in the region.
AIDS Accountability International's work on CCMs and GFATM are kindly funded by funding partner Ford Foundation, South Africa Office.
With each week that passes, the Ebola crisis in West Africa deepens. And amid the horror, the fear and a public health response described by Medicine Sans Frontières as “lethally inadequate”, public health systems face total collapse.
While the inadequate international response has loomed large, it is the region’s chronically weak and desperately resourced health infrastructure which is the critical factor. This was underlined by Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University Hospital in the US who led the successful treatment of two aid workers who contracted Ebola while working in West Africa.
According to Ribner: “They [West African Doctors] suffer from a terrible lack of infrastructure and the sort of testing that everyone in our society takes for granted, such as the ability to do a complete blood count – measuring your red blood cells, your white blood cells and your platelets – which is done as part of any standard checkup here. The facility in Liberia where our two patients were didn’t even have this simple thing, which everyone assumes is done as part of your annual physical.”
Health systems encompass hospitals, clinics, procurements structures, research programmes, community health workers and training provision, and are the first line of defence in the face of outbreaks such as Ebola. When that bulwark is breached so easily, as it was in Sierra Leone and throughout the region, it raises urgent and uncomfortable questions about the focus of our development priorities.
In fact, this crisis exposes the great fallacy of the West’s global development agenda. While the international health and development community obsesses about technocratic development goals, targets, and indicators; the basic building blocks of health provision in poor countries have been desperately neglected.
There is a contradiction here. Isn’t it recognised that global health has done well out of the last 15 years of development spending?
Three of the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) are health related, new philanthropic actors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have prioritised global health as an area of concern, and new financing mechanisms to support vaccinations and HIV/AIDS responses such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria were created.
The result: a swell of new money, big name endorsements, and targeted action in critical but singular areas.
This tide of resources, expertise and good will has led to a pre-occupation with “vertical interventions” – programmes that prioritise specific diseases such as malaria. This is of course, not a bad thing in itself. Malaria is a scourge on the health and lives of Africans, and programmes to mitigate its transmission and effects are both vital and badly needed. I’m not proposing that we cut off support for disease-specific programmes nor that development is a zero-sum game – but our limited resources can’t ignore the less glamorous but no less urgent areas of clinics, hospitals and systems.
The singular focus on specific diseases, to the detriment of health systems in general, is a major reason why we are where we are in West Africa. The failure of the healthcare infrastructure to cope with Ebola should not be a surprise; it is certainly not for those living and working in the region, many of whom have spent decades decrying the ramshackle state of hospitals, clinics and systems.
The WHO has stressed the importance of health systems, and the World Bank began to make them the focus of its regional efforts a few years ago. Yet, the idea that health systems should be a key feature of the new Millennium Development Goal process is gaining little traction in international development circles. In short, without a radical focus on health systems; the future is bleak.
The struggle to contain Ebola shows how strongly equipped and fully-functioning health systems are fundamental to the management of health emergencies as well as the everyday health and well-being of people in vulnerable, poorer regions.
The stubborn focus on goals and specific diseases over the last 15 years has led to a chronic and senseless neglect of health systems in developing countries. This focus has contributed to a catastrophic public health emergency. If we are to salvage anything from this human and regional tragedy, it should include a commitment to invest money and expertise in regional health infrastructure. That requires an urgent and radical shift in our accepted model of global health and development.
In 2000, the creators of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) completely overlooked sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), a mistake that, if repeated, would cripple the dreams of millions of young girls and women for years and generations to come.
Access to SRHR enables individuals to choose whether, when, and with whom to engage in sexual activity; to choose whether and when to have children; and to access the information and means to do so. To some, these rights may be considered an everyday reality. However, that is not the case for millions of young people in the world – particularly girls and women.
On Tuesday night, I had the fantastic opportunity to listen to some of the foremost global leaders speak on behalf of ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights in the post-2015 agenda. The benefits of ensuring SRHR are society wide and inevitably translate into improved education, economic growth, health, gender equality, and even environment.
“At my high school, you would be expelled if found with a condom.” – Samuel Kissi, former President, Curious Minds Ghana
When girls are healthy and their rights are fulfilled, they have the opportunity to attend school, learn life skills, and grow into empowered young women. Wherever girls’ SRHR are ignored, major educational barriers follow. Child marriage and early pregnancy are major contributors to school dropout rates. In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, girls are married before age 18 at an alarming 50 percent and 40 percent respectively. And in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of adolescent pregnancies occur in marriage, it is safe to assume that not all those sexual acts were consensual and not all those pregnancies were planned.
“Initially I used to oppose family planning, but now I fully support. I support it because my wife has more time to work and earn money.” – The Honorable Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minster of Foreign Affairs for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, sharing the story of an Ethiopian man’s changed opinion regarding the importance of SRHR
Protecting SRHR not only saves lives and empowers people, but it also leads to significant economic gains for individuals and for the community as a whole. As previously stated, ensuring SRHR helps to decrease school dropout rates and, as a result, leads to a more productive and healthy workforce as each additional year of schooling for girls increases their employment opportunities and future earnings by nearly 10 percent.
“We cannot eliminate new HIV infections without providing SRHR services to women so they can make informed decisions to protect themselves and their children in the future. Yes, we will end the AIDS epidemic, but first we need to respect the dignity and the equality of women and young girls.” – Dr. Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS
Access to SRHR guarantees quality family planning services, counseling and health information. These services are critical, particularly because women are often victims of gender-based violence and sexual assault and thereby face greater risks for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. Failing to secure and uphold SRHR dooms women and girls with an increased risk of unsafe, non-consensual sex and maternal mortality.
“How can you control your life if you cannot control your fertility?” – Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
When a woman can easily plan her family, she is more equipped to participate in the economy alongside her male colleagues. When the sexual rights of a woman or girl are fulfilled, she will experience decreased rates of sexual violence and enjoy a healthy relationship with a respectful partner. When a woman or girl does not fall victim to child marriage and early pregnancy, she can stay in school and achieve anything she puts her mind to.
“The woman continues to bring life, to bring up the next generation, to stand before you and say, ‘I am ready to embrace my rights and to deliver a better planet to humanity.’” – Joy Phumaphi, former Minister of Health, Botswana; Chair, Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health
A 2012 study found that community water and sanitation projects designed and run by women are more sustainable and effective than those that are not. Similarly, women produce 60 to 80 percent of food in developing countries and, with the economic and educational gains that coincide with secured SRHR, a woman is better equipped to effectively manage her land.
The post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals will not happen without SRHR being addressed. So far, the world has failed to recognize that SRHR are equally as fundamental to global development as finance and trade. We can no longer afford to view SRHR as a taboo or promiscuous topic. When 90% of first births in low-income countries are to girls under 18; when the leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 is pregnancy and childbirth; when two-thirds of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa are among adolescent girls; and when 200 million women want to use family planning methods but lack access, the young girls and women of the world do not have a promiscuity problem – they have a human rights problem.
By Elisabeth Epstein
25 September 2014
A man in the United States has become the first known international traveller to be infected in the West Africa Ebola epidemic and carry the virus abroad. He is thought to have been infected in Liberia and developed symptoms six or seven days after arriving in the United States to visit family. He’s being treated in isolation in Dallas, Texas.
Quarantine, in the form of isolation, is an important component of the response to Ebola infection. As people are infectious only once they develop symptoms, isolating them and having health-care workers use personal protective equipment significantly reduces the risk of onward transmission.
The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the man will continue to be treated in isolation. In a process known as contact tracing, everyone he has come in contact with since he became symptomatic on September 24 will be located and monitored for 21 days (the maximum incubation period of the virus). Anyone who shows symptoms will also be isolated and treated.
The Ebola virus is unlikely to spread further in the United States because these measures are known to be effective. Indeed, their absence has contributed significantly to the spread of the virus in resource-poor nations of West Africa.
Countries have been practising this measure against infectious diseases well before we understood what caused and transmitted infections. The earliest mention of isolating people in this way is in the books of the Old Testament, for leprosy and other skin diseases.
The word “quarantine” comes from the Italian “quaranta giorni” which simply means “40 days”. It refers to the 40-day isolation period imposed by the Great Council of the City of Ragusa (modern day Dubrovnik, Croatia) in 1377 on any visitors from areas where the Black Death was endemic. In its most basic form, quarantine is the isolation of people with a disease from unaffected people.
The measure has clear benefits; it was effective during the 2003 pandemic of SARS-coronavirus when the isolation of cases and their contacts for ten days was arguably one of the most significant interventions for containing the outbreak in only five months.
And it has frequently been used to control Ebola outbreaks. Since the virus' first and most severe outbreak in 2000, Uganda has used quarantine measures to good effect, isolating contacts of cases for up to the 21 days of the viral incubation period.
Surveillance, a more Ebola-educated populace and targeted quarantine measures have meant Uganda had only 149 cases with 37 deaths, one case and death, and 31 cases with 21 deaths in subsequent outbreaks in 2007, 2011 and 2012.
Nigeria has also demonstrated the efficacy of a contact tracing and isolation approach. Despite being one of the most populous countries in Africa and having cases introduced into Lagos, a city of 21 million people, its last case was seen on September 5.
Removing infected and potentially infectious people from the community clearly helps reduce the spread of disease, but it still requires a place for people to be isolated and treated. That’s what’s missing in countries still in the midst of the epidemic, and also what continues to drive it.
While quarantine is an important weapon in our arsenal against Ebola, indiscriminate isolation is counterproductive.
The World Health Organisation has warned that closing country borders and banning the movement of people is detrimental to the affected countries, pushing them closer to an impending humanitarian catastrophe. Stopping international flights to the affected countries, for instance, has led to a shortage of essential medical supplies.
Still, this didn’t stop Sierra Leone from imposing a stay-at-home curfew for all of its 6.2 million citizens for three days from September 19 to 21. Results from this unprecedented lockdown are unverified, with reports of between 130 and 350 new suspect cases being identified and 265 corpses found. But in a country where the majority of people live from hand to mouth with no reserves of food, the true hardship of the measure is difficult to quantify.
In addition to the three-day lockdown, two eastern districts have been in indefinite quarantine since the beginning of August. On September 26, Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, announced that the two northern districts of Port Loko and Bombali, together with the southern district of Moyamba, will also be sealed off. This means more than a third of the country’s population will be unable to move at will.
Sierra Leone’s excessive quarantine measures are having a significant impact on the movement of food and other resources around the country, as well as on mining operations in Port Loko that are critical for the economy.
The country had one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies before the outbreak, with the IMF predicting growth of 14%. The World Bank estimates the outbreak will cost 3.3% of its GDP this year, with an additional loss of 1.2% to 8.9% next year.
Rice and maize harvests are due to take place between October and December. There’s a significant risk that the ongoing quarantines will have a significant impact on food production.
Quarantine is an excellent measure for containing infectious disease outbreaks but its indiscriminate and widespread use will compound this epidemic with another humanitarian disaster.
At least 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone who have lost one or both parents to Ebola this year face being shunned, the UN has said.
Carers were urgently needed for these orphans, Unicef said. A basic human reaction like comforting a sick child has been turned “into a potential death sentence”, it added. The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 3,000 people have died of Ebola in West Africa – the world’s most deadly outbreak of the virus. The fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties” Manuel Fontaine Unicef.
The figure on the number of Ebola orphans follows a two-week assessment mission by the UN children’s agency to the three countries worst-affected by the outbreak. An earlier version of this story said that 4,900 children had lost parents but the correct figure is 3,700. It found that children as young as three or four years old were being orphaned by the disease.
Children were discovered alone in the hospitals where their parents had died, or back in their communities where, if they were lucky, they were being fed by neighbours – but all other contact with them was being avoided. “Thousands of children are living through the deaths of their mother, father or family members from Ebola,” Unicef’s Manuel Fontaine said in statement about his two-week visit to the region.
“These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned,” he said.
Advocates fear South Africa might turn against an LGBT rights resolution at the UN that it sponsored three years ago.
South Africa was once the essential nation to advancing LGBTI rights in international diplomacy. Now it has become a potential roadblock.
Back in 2011, South Africa sponsored a resolution before the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) that, for the first time, recognized LGBTI rights as human rights. Other nations, especially from Latin America, had been working to advance LGBTI rights in less high-profile ways for several years before, but South Africa’s leadership was critical to taking the effort to the level of a formal resolution. Such a proposal had to have at least one prominent African backer, its supporters believed. Otherwise, it would play into the hands of LGBTI rights opponents in Africa and other parts of the world that had once been colonized who argue that homosexuality was a Western perversion brought by colonial powers.
An updated version of the resolution was tabled Thursday at a Human Rights Council meeting underway in Geneva. It was sponsored by Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay. A vote is expected next week.
Not only is South Africa’s name not on it, but some LGBTI rights supporters tell BuzzFeed News that South Africa’s diplomats are behaving so strangely in negotiations that they worry the country could even turn against the resolution. A South African defection might not only help torpedo the proposal, it would also be a stunning symbolic reversal for a country that set the standard for protecting LGBTI rights. When South Africa adopted its first post-apartheid constitution in 1993, it became the world’s first nation to protect LGBTI rights in its fundamental rights declaration. This came out of a commitment to fighting a broad range of oppression, and it commanded even greater moral authority because it was rooted in the experience of fighting white supremacy.
So some LGBTI rights supporters are looking at South Africa’s reluctance to clearly support the new resolution as a fundamental betrayal.
“We currently have leadership that fails to represent the ethos of what the constitution says and the equality principles they have to uphold,” said Mmapeseka Steve Letsike, a lesbian activist who chairs the South African National AIDS Council’s Civil Society Forum. “We have leadership going out of this country putting their personal beliefs before its own people. We have leaders that fail to protect their own.”
South Africa’s pullback on LGBTI rights internationally comes as homophobia has become an increasingly common political tool across Africa, framed as a form of standing up to the West. Nigeria and Uganda both passed sweeping bills criminalizing LGBTI rights advocacy this winter, the governments of The Gambia and Chad both have pending proposals to stiffen laws against homosexuality, and LGBTI people are being targeted by police from Zimbabwe to Egypt to Senegal.
“Silence in the context of the African Bloc suggests a kind of complicity with the homophobic rhetoric,” said Graeme Reid, a South African who directs Human Rights Watch’s LGBT program. “It speaks of a kind of misplaced solidarity … not aligning with the [LGBTI] people who are the victims of human rights abuse, but with the perpetrators under the rhetoric of supporting our ‘African brothers and sisters.’”
LGBTI rights supporters were also hopeful that some smaller African countries could be persuaded to abstain on the vote — a kind of soft yes — and one or two might even be convinced to back it. This could tip the balance if the vote is close. The 2011 resolution was a nail-biter, passing 23-19 with three abstentions. But that becomes very hard if South Africa can’t counterbalance conservative continental heavyweights that might be lobbying the smaller countries.
“As soon as [South Africa] pulls back, it gives countries like Nigeria and Egypt room to bully and push the smaller countries,” said an LGBTI rights advocate from another southern African country who asked to speak anonymously in order to avoid a backlash in negotiations. “We need South Africa to maintain the same position if not better” than in 2011.
It’s hard to see why this resolution is so important by reading the plain language — all it really does is order a bi-annual study of LGBTI rights by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. But there are only a few places where language referring to LGBTI rights exists in any international agreements. This small resolution is a way of giving U.N. staff authority to work on LGBTI issues and means that it will be a regular focus of discussion in Geneva. And it will be a precedent that can be used to broaden the inclusion of LGBTI rights in other human rights agreements.
Most LGBTI rights supporters came into the negotiations that began last week assuming that South Africa would be supportive even if it no longer wanted its name on the resolution. Regional coalitions are very important in the U.N., and other major powers within the Africa bloc, especially Nigeria and Egypt, have been at the forefront of pushing anti-LGBTI policies. South Africa had taken a lot of heat for the 2011 resolution, and many LGBTI supporters might have understood if officials chose not to take a public role in support this year.
But they’ve withheld their support even in private discussions, say sources familiar with the negotiations. The head of South Africa’s Geneva delegation, Ambassador Abdul Samad Minty, took the unusual step of coming personally to an informal meeting on Wednesday, something usually left to staff. But he said virtually nothing in the meeting, said a source in the room, which showed other nations that South Africa isn’t about to go to bat for the proposal.
This posture follows a move by South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party to block a parliamentary motion to condemn anti-LGBTI legislation enacted by Uganda in February (which has since been struck down by the court). It also comes after a vote by South Africa during the June HRC session that stunned LGBTI rights supporters: South Africa joined with conservative nations on a procedural vote to exclude a sentence stating “various forms of the family exist” in an Egyptian-led resolution on the “Protection of the Family.” The resolution passed without this language, and LGBTI rights supporters were concerned that the language could be used as precedent for excluding families from protections under international law if they are not led by a heterosexual couple.
“In the room they’re being a little bit weird,” said a diplomat from a Western country working on the resolution, referring to South Africa’s behavior in the negotiations. But this isn’t entirely new. “They’ve been behaving weird for two or three years on this,” the diplomat said.
The diplomat attributed that more to a change in personnel than an intentional shift in policy: Jerry Matjila, who was South Africa’s ambassador to the Human Rights Council when work began on the 2011 resolution, has since returned to Pretoria to take a senior post in the Department of International Relations and Co-operation. His replacement, Ambassador Minty, lacks his personal commitment to the issue, say sources who have worked with the delegation.
South Africa’s Geneva mission and the Department of International Relations and Co-operation in Pretoria did not respond to requests for comment.
But some South African activists see this dilution of South Africa’s commitment to LGBTI rights internationally as part of a larger trend in the country’s leadership. The late Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the African National Congress embraced LGBTI rights as part of a commitment to fighting a broad range of oppression as they brought South Africa out of apartheid — Matjila is seen as part of that school. But that commitment is not as strong among the younger generation of leaders, most notably President Jacob Zuma, who called same-sex marriage “a disgrace to the nation and to God” around the time the unions won legal recognition in the country.
The shift doesn’t mean South Africa has done a 180 on LGBTI rights. Rather, it’s led to a kind of schizophrenia that is frustrating to LGBTI rights supporters. The lack of support for this resolution is all the more confusing because it comes at a time that there is a new commitment from the government to fighting anti-LGBTI hate crimes inside the country, spurred by a series of horrific rapes and murders of black lesbians.
“Domestically, there is a sense of a real commitment and energy and political will,” said Human Rights Watch’s Graeme Reid. But the international stance is incoherent — the Latin Americans only introduced the resolution at the last minute because South Africa wouldn’t let go of its ownership of the issue until just before the Human Rights Council session began earlier this month.
“There is an air of uncertainty about their position because they have been dragging their feet on this for the last three years, not moving on the resolution and not dropping it,” Reid said.
The resolution’s supporters are optimistic that they will have the votes to pass the resolution if it gets an up or down vote next week, and no one who spoke to BuzzFeed News for this story said they thought it was possible that South Africa would vote against the resolution on the final vote. It could abstain on a final vote, a possibility that some of the resolution’s supporters fear is more likely as the negotiations wear on. Or it could vote for a procedural motion that would kill the resolution by denying an up or down vote — exactly what it did to keep the inclusive language out of the Protection of the Family resolution in June.
“It would be unacceptable, incomprehensible, and almost unconscionable for a relatively new democracy like South Africa to support shutting down debate at the UN’s human rights body [to affirm a principle] that’s in its own constitution,” said Marianne Møllman, program director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, in an interview from Geneva.
By J. Lester Feder
19 September 2014
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia–08 September 2014: The African Union and partners met Monday on the side lines of the emergency meeting of the African Union Executive Council to announce pledges by the African Union Partners Group (AUPG) to the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak (Operation ASEOWA).
The United States Government announced USD10 million and the European Union 5 million euros to be made available immediately to support the African Union Operation to end the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The Republic of China last week announced USD 2 million to ASEOWA.
The Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Erastus Mwencha, expressed gratitude to partners for the generous response to support the African Union operation ASEOWA and for all the concerted efforts to respond rapidly to the outbreak.
“The focus should be on containing the epidemic to make sure that it does not spread further, improve the capacity of health facilities, which have been overstretched and monitor contacts and manage the confirmed cases”, the AUC Deputy Chairperson said.
The African Union this week received the assessment report from the mission that it sent to the affected countries which will inform its path breaking response.
“The United States is absolutely committed to working with the international community to increase response efforts in West Africa and help bring this outbreak under control”, said Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety, adding “We commend the AU for sending an assessment team and welcome its findings and we urge the AU to ensure that its mission is working through its operations on the ground and in accord with WHO Ebola response roadmap”.
The ASEOWA operation aims at filling the existing gap in international efforts and will work with the African Humanitarian Action in mobilising medical and public health volunteers across the continent and will compliment ongoing efforts by various humanitarian actors who are already on the ground.
The African Union made a historic decision end of August by declaring Ebola a threat to peace and security in Africa invoking article 6 (f) relating to its mandate with regard to humanitarian action and disaster management at its 450th meeting. The meeting authorised the immediate deployment of a joint AU-led military and civilian humanitarian mission to tackle the emergency situation caused by the Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about USD600 million is needed to put the epidemic under control.
Click here to read: ASEOWA Pledge