Category Archives: Accountability

AHF Mourns Liberia’s Dr. Taban Dada; Urges African Union and W.H.O. to Accelerate Ebola Response

AHF

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

South Africa: Pregnant women and girls continue to die unnecessarily

south africa carousel

Hundreds of pregnant women and girls are dying needlessly in South Africa. In part, this is because they fear their HIV status may be revealed as they access antenatal care services, according to a major report published by Amnesty International today.

 

Struggle for Maternal Health: Barriers to Antenatal Care in South Africa, details how fears over patient confidentiality and HIV testing, a lack of information and transport problems are contributing to hundreds of maternal deaths every year by acting as barriers to early antenatal care.

 

“It is unacceptable that pregnant women and girls are continuing to die in South Africa because they fear their HIV status will be revealed, and because of a lack of transport and basic health and sexuality education. This cannot continue,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

 

“The South African government must ensure all departments work together to urgently address all the barriers that place the health of pregnant women and girls at risk.”

 

South Africa has an unacceptably high rate of maternal mortality. There were 1,560 recorded maternal deaths in 2011 and 1,426 in 2012. More than a third of these deaths were linked to HIV. Experts suggest that 60% of all the deaths were avoidable.

 

Antenatal care is free in South Africa’s public health system. However, Amnesty International’s research found that many women and girls do not attend clinics until the later stages of their pregnancy because they are given to believe that the HIV test is compulsory. They fear testing and the stigma of being known to be living with HIV. Nearly a quarter of avoidable deaths have been linked to late or no access to antenatal care.

 

Worryingly, these fears are not without foundation. Amnesty International’s report, based on field research conducted in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, contains testimonies from women and girls who say that health care workers inappropriately discuss HIV test results with others.

 

“The nurses are talking about people and their status”, a woman from KwaZulu-Natal explained.

 

Amnesty International also found that several clinics it visited use processes for pregnant women and girls living with HIV that disclose their status, including separate queues for antiretroviral medication, different coloured antenatal files and different days for appointments.

 

“[I]f I go for antiretroviral, my line is that side. All the people in this line they know these people are HIV. That’s why people are afraid to come to the clinic,” one woman in Mpumalanga told Amnesty International.

 

“During antenatal care, if women come out of the counsellor’s room with two files, then everyone knows they are HIV positive,” said another woman.

 

Women and girls said they feared discriminatory treatment even from partners and family members as a result of testing positive for HIV and that HIV-related stigma remained a problem in many communities.

 

“While HIV testing is an important public health intervention it must be done in a manner that respects the rights of women and girls and does not expose them to additional harm. It is deeply worrying that the privacy of pregnant woman and girls is not respected in health facilities. The South African government must take urgent steps to correct this,” said Salil Shetty.

 

“It is vital that health care workers in South Africa receive additional training on providing quality care that is both free of judgement and stigma and that women and girls accessing sexual and reproductive health services are able to trust that their confidentiality will be respected.”

 

Lack of information about sexual and reproductive health

 

Amnesty International’s report also identifies that a lack of information and knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights increases risks of unplanned pregnancies and HIV transmission, especially among adolescents. Likewise women and girls are often unaware of the importance of early antenatal checks.

 

Persistent problems relating to transport

 

The report also documents the lack of progress made in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga to ensure that women and girls can physically access health services. Problems persist relating to shortages of public transport and poor road infrastructure. The roads in some areas visited by Amnesty International are of such poor quality that they become impassable when it rains. Even when it is dry, ambulances will not go beyond a certain point on some roads. Amnesty International had documented the same problems in both provinces in a 2008 report.

 

“The South African government must build better road networks in these rural provinces to guarantee access to healthcare facilities. The government must also ensure that ambulances are always available to transport those who are in need,” said Salil Shetty.

 

Amnesty International is also calling on the government to:

 

  • Ensure that all health system procedures uphold patient privacy, particularly for people living with HIV.
  • Improve knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights, including through comprehensive sexuality education that involves men and boys.
  • Urgently address the persistent lack of safe, convenient and adequate transport, and the poor condition of transport infrastructure.

 

Additional information

 

This report builds on Amnesty International’s 2008 report, ‘I am at the lowest end of all’: Rural women living with HIV face human rights abuses in South Africa, in which the organisation documented gender, economic and social inequalities as barriers to health care for women living with HIV.

 

9 October 2014

By Amnesty International

Source: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/south-africa-pregnant-women-and-girls-continue-die-unnecessarily-2014-10-09

AAI Forms New Partnerships to Promote Global Fund Accountability in East Africa

CCM Uganda AAIPriorities Charters

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.

SA Minister Underscores Reproductive Justice

amandla-375x250

It is rare that you can see something you’ve helped to create change the behavior of a government thousands of miles away. So imagine my surprise when I opened my email this morning to read the speech about reproductive justice (RJ) made by South Africa’s Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini in front of the United Nations General Assembly on September 19. She didn’t speak in general language that could be interpreted to suggest reproductive justice; she actually used the specific term, acknowledging the role African-American women played in gifting this theory and framework to the world.

 
In addition to discussing sexual rights, reproductive health issues, and economic justice, she used the speech to explicitly embrace LGBTQ rights. As a representative of an African government that supports gay, lesbian, trans, bi, and intersex rights, her remarks act as an important backstop against the rampant anti-gay hysteria around the continent fomented by the evangelical religious right in Uganda and elsewhere. Yet it was her use of the reproductive justice language that started my heart pounding Tuesday morning.
 
It is no longer surprising that RJ has caught on in the United States among thousands of activists eager to move beyond the paralyzing pro-choice/anti-choice stalemate. It is very simple to embrace RJ as both a theoretical paradigm shift and a model for ideal practices because it’s easy to understand and, in a few words, can state the sum of our expectations. As I’ve written in other places, it comes with its own “elevator pitch:”
 
RJ is about three interconnected sets of human rights: 1) the right to have children; 2) the right not have children; and 3) the right to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.
 
As bell hooks says, “Any theory that cannot be shared in everyday conversation cannot be used to educate the public.”
 
Reproductive justice does not privilege the production of babies as the only goal of women’s biology; instead, it is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, and the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing one’s decisions. Although the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective publicized the concept of RJ, it does not only apply to women of color. Human rights are what everyone deserves, and so everyone is included in the RJ framework. In particular, reproductive justice draws attention to the lack of physical, reproductive, and cultural safety that affects our “choices.” Reproductive justice focuses on oppression—the structures of injustice and inequality.
 
In 1994, when 12 Black women sat in a hotel room in Chicago and envisioned the concept of reproductive justice as a way to create new avenues of resistance and strategies for change, we had no idea that 20 years later, we’d be discussing how RJ has changed the pro-choice movement in the United States in addition to being used by activists around the world. I’ve been invited to speak about reproductive justice in Ireland, South Africa, China, and Brazil. Activists in these countries told me that using the RJ framework has opened up political spaces to talk about sexual rights and reproductive health issues in a way that moves the lens from centering only on abortion; instead, it enfolds abortion in a larger conversation about people’s lives and human rights. As in the United States, this paradigm shift has brought new allies into the conversation and has thwarted opponents who only want to focus on fetuses instead of the full spectrum of our lived experiences.
 
In the United States, some adopters of the RJ framework have only focused on the inherent concept of intersectionality, based on the works of Kimberlé Crenshaw. Intersectionality, according to her, “mediates the tension between assertions of multiple identities and the ongoing necessity of group politics,” while at the same time providing a “basis for reconceptualizing” a single identity as coalition, such as “race as a coalition between men and women of color.” Intersectionality is certainly a process that the RJ framework uses as a pathway toward understanding our multiple identities. But it is just that: a process, not a goal. The goal is the full achievement of human rights for everyone.
 
To get there, we need a legal regime that pushes beyond the limited U.S. Constitution and the tenuous interpretation of “privacy” to protect women’s rights. Incidentally, this is also why Crenshaw conceptualized intersectionality as a lawyer in 1989, when she analyzed the inability of U.S. laws to deal with the compounding of race and gender in cases involving Black women plaintiffs.
 
In fact, to not reference “human rights” as an international set of laws and standards in discussions and applications of reproductive justice is to divest RJ of its power to challenge the U.S. government to live up to the obligation to protect our people. When RJ is stripped of its most radical potential, we have to ask ourselves, whose interests does that serve?
 
Nonetheless, back to South Africa. It was wonderful for me that Minister Dlamini referenced the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in her speech. That was where things crystallized for me, 20 years ago: that the ability of any woman to manage her own fertility is directly dependent on the circumstances of the community in which she is embedded. To promote contraceptives in a community that lacks basic health-care infrastructure is a form of population control, not a sincere understanding of the needs of women or their communities. This was the message—in other words, the African philosophical concept of Ubuntu—that global feminists agreed upon at the ICPD, and we pushed it together to ensure that it was included in RJ’s Plan of Action.
 
On Friday, Dlamini called upon all African countries to improve their human rights commitments for everyone and to stop limiting protections by invoking the phrase “in accordance with national laws and policies.” This mealy-mouthed half-stepping basically admits that existing national laws that violate human rights, such as Uganda’s “kill the gays” law, will not be changed. This is a salutary lesson for the United States. The primary reason we have not ratified the majority of the available human rights treaties—including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)—is because of Congress’ reluctance to bring U.S. laws into harmony with international human rights laws.
 
So I celebrate this morning in company with my co-creators Toni Bond Leonard, “Able” Mable Thomas, Cynthia Newbille, Rev. Alma Crawford, Evelyn Field, and seven others who were with us in that hotel room. We’ll have our SisterSong-organized reunion in Chicago from November 7 to 9, but we’ll arrive there celebrating the fact that, in the words of South African women, the stone we tossed in 1994 “dislodged a boulder.” Amandla!
 
By Loretta Ross
23 September 2014
Source: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/09/23/amandla-south-african-minister-underscores-reproductive-justice-global-framework/

Quarantine works against Ebola but over-use risks disaster

LIBERIA HEALTH EBOLA

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.

 

The benefits of quarantine

 

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.

 

Too much of a good thing

 

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.

 

Source: http://theconversation.com/quarantine-works-against-ebola-but-over-use-risks-disaster-32112

UN Human Rights Council votes to support LGBT rights

L27 UNHRC Ntsoaki Nhlapo

The UN Human Rights Council ( UNHRC) voted on Friday to pass a resolution supporting LGBT rights around the world, condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. India abstained from voting on the resolution.

 

The Human Rights Council resolution—led by Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay—followed a resolution in 2011 on the same topic led by South Africa and asks the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to gather and publish information on how best to overcome discrimination and violence.

 

Opponents of the resolution employed procedural tactics to defeat the text, by presenting a total of 7 amendments that would have eliminated all reference to sexual orientation and gender identity from the text, and made it applicable only to countries who proactively declare support for sexual diversity and rights. These amendments were defeated by vote.

 

The resolution passed by 25 votes in favor, 14 against, and 7 abstentions. India abstained from voting, and so did Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Kazakhstan, Namibia and Sierra Leone. Pakistan, Indonesia, Russia and Saudi Arabia were the notable ones among 14 to oppose.

 

LGBT activists and allies from around the world have advocated strongly to bring about a resolution that would ensure regular attention at the Human Rights Council to violations based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

An earlier version of the resolution had reflected more of that vision, requiring the OHCHR to report biannually. The regular reporting requirement was stricken from the text during negotiations. On Friday, while some expressed disappointment with the limitations of the resolution, activists from across the world celebrated its symbolic value.

 

27 September 2014

Source: http://www.dnaindia.com/world/report-un-human-rights-council-votes-to-support-lgbt-rights-india-abstains-from-voting-2021923

SIGN ON CALL FOR SOUTH AFRICA TO TAKE LEADERSHIP IN SAFEGUARDING SOGI RIGHTS AT THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

Demand Accountability Profile Image Ntsoaki

As you may know this is the last week of the 27th ordinary session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)for 2014 taking place in Geneva, Switzerland.

 

This is an important session and with huge implications for SOGI work and SOGI activists. Chile, Uruguay, Colombia and Brazil have tabled a follow up SOGI Resolution 27/L27 to Resolution 17/19 of 2011. This resolution seeks to affirm state’s commitments to safeguarding the rights and freedoms of African people with non-conforming sexualities and gender identities and expressions.

 

This week, some states seek to amend the language in this resolution, which will attempt to remove all language directly referencing issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and replace SOGI language with language equal or roughly equal to “race, colour, sex, language, religion or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Other states altogether seek to vote against the new and proposed SOGI resolution.

 

Our work, as civil society and human rights defenders is to ensure that instruments such as the United Nations Human Rights Council work to uphold the rights of ALL people, including gender non-conforming and trans-identifying African women and men.

 

CAL along with other civil society organisations are calling upon South Africa to ensure that the SOGI language is maintained and that the follow up resolution protecting SOGI rights is passed. We are requesting that South Africa show leadership, as they have in the past, and vote YES for the follow up SOGI resolution.

 

It is for this purpose that we are calling on our members, feminist allies and friends, as organisations and individuals to sign onto the attached letter which we will be sending the Minister of Foreign Affairs to South Africa, Hon. Maite Nkoana.

 

This is an URGENT and extremely IMPORTANT action, and we kindly ask that your organisation signs onto this letter before or by 18h00 today-Tuesday 23 September 2014.

 

We look forward to your solidarity and your quick action on this issue.

 

What can you do?

  1. Sign on to the letter that SA votes YES!: email your name, organisation and country to signon@aidsaccountability.org.
  2. Change your profile pic and cover photo on facebook and twitter. See example here.
  3. Post your selfie message of support on Facebook.
  4. Follow @DemandAccountabilitySA on twitter.
  5. Sign the Petition to still set the date for the regional meeting.
  6. Forward this email to colleagues.

South Africa, Which Once Led On Promoting LGBT Rights Abroad, Could Become A Roadblock

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

Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/south-africa-which-once-led-on-promoting-lgbt-rights-abroad#2dmkbjy

African Union to immediately receive close to USD 18.5 Million direct support to its Ebola operation ASEOWA

AU-FLAG2

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: African Union’s Executive Council Urges Lifting of Travel Restrictions Related to Ebola Outbreak

Click here to read: ASEOWA Pledge

Click here to read: African Union Urges Member States to Find Collective Response to Ebola Outbreak and Show Solidarity with Affected Countries

Gambia’s President Jammeh asked to reject anti-gay law

Gambia President

Leading rights groups have called on Gambian President Yahya Jammeh not to approve tough new anti-gay legislation.

 

Homosexual acts are already illegal in The Gambia, but MPs passed a bill on 25 August imposing life sentences for “aggravated homosexuality”.

 

The bill promoted “state-sponsored homophobia”, the rights groups said.

 

Mr Jammeh is known for his strong opposition to gay rights. He has called gay people “vermin” and once threatened to behead them.

 

Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down a similar law last month on the grounds that it was passed by MPs without a quorum.

 

‘Deep fear’

Its ruling followed an outcry from rights groups and Western governments – US President Barack Obama described the legislation as “odious”.

 

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the definition of “aggravated homosexuality” was vague in The Gambian bill.

 

Among those who could be given the life sentence were “repeat offenders” and people living with HIV who are suspected to be gay or lesbians, they said in a joint statement.

 

A person who had homosexual relations with a minor could also be convicted of “aggravated homosexuality”, Reuters news agency reports.

 

“President Jammeh should not approve this profoundly damaging act that violates international human rights law,” said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for West and Central Africa.

 

Graeme Reid of HRW said it would “only heap further stigma on people who are already marginalised and living in a climate of deep fear and hate in Gambia”.

 

Under current laws, homosexual acts are already punishable by up to 14 years in prison in The Gambia.

 

Mr Jammeh has 30 days from the date the bill was passed to sign it into law or return it to parliament for further review.

 

The Gambia is a popular tourist destination, famous for its beaches.

 

By BBC News Africa

10 September 2014

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29145397