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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 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
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
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.
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