UN: Is SA fixing the chinks in its human rights armour?
Ian Davidson, Shadow Minister of International Relations and Cooperation
9 March 2012
This week South Africa co-sponsored a long overdue debate on gay rights at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council and took the lead in preventing a walkout by African states.
I will be writing to the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, to ask that her Department follow up on this positive step by pushing for a resolution on gay rights at the African Union.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been advocating for a stronger stance by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) on the violation of gay rights on the African continent as an expression of South Africa’s commitment to universal human rights. We therefore welcome this move by DIRCO to start addressing uncertainties about South Africa’s position.
When South Africa initiated a resolution requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to draft a report detailing the situation of gay citizens worldwide in June 2011, we expected our international representatives to take a clear stand on the issue in the diplomatic arena on the African continent.
Over the last nine months South Africa’s foreign representatives have, however, been strangely silent on the issue. This prompted the DA to submit parliamentary questions to the DIRCO minister to ask for clarification on South Africa’s stance on gay rights in Africa. A copy of the question and reply follows below.
Despite President Jacob Zuma’s failure to use diplomatic visits to Nigeria to speak out against discrimination against sexual minorities and DIRCO’s silence on legislative proposals in Uganda recommending death sentences for gay “repeat offenders” the DIRCO Minister confirmed that South Africa is committed to advocating “for the principle of non-discrimination under any grounds, including sexual orientation”.
The UN report discussed this week calls for an end to the laws criminalising homosexuality. We hope that South Africa’s leading role in this discussion signals the beginning of a concerted diplomatic effort to engage with the 37 African countries in which homosexuality is still illegal to end their discriminatory practices.
Questionable foreign policy decisions relating to human rights have damaged perceptions about South Africa’s commitment to a "worldwide human rights campaign”. A strong stand on gay rights in Africa is an opportunity for our international representatives to restore South Africa’s moral credibility.