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Thursday, 18 November 2010

South Africa's 'mendacious' failure on international LGBT rights

Source: Harry's Place

The United Nations, reports Reuters, has voted to delete reference to gays and lesbians from a resolution condemning unjustified executions, following lobbying from African and Arab countries.
Western delegations expressed disappointment in the human rights committee’s vote to remove the reference to slayings due to sexual orientation from the resolution on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.
“The subject of this amendment — the need for prompt and thorough investigations of all killing, including those committed for … sexual orientation — exists in this resolution simply because it is a continuing cause for concern,” a British statement to the committee said.
Of course, it must be kept in mind that of the seven countries that impose the death penalty for homosexuality are all either in the Muslim world or Africa. So are almost all of the 93 countries that still legally punish homosexuality.

So basically what you have is this: an organisation which is supposed to protect the human rights of all the world’s citizens, merely pays lip service to it, while passively condoning, excusing and obscuring the savagery of blocs of its members. It remains a fact that homosexuals are one of the most persecuted groups and removing any reference to this – while name-checking racial, national, ethnic, religious and even linguistic reasons, as well as those with refugee status  - clearly gives the green light for the continued persecution of gay and lesbian people.


Even South Africa, once praised for having produced one of the world’s most progressive constitutions – the first to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – equivocated and ultimately supported the amendment to delete reference to sexual orientation. According to the UN’s press release:
The representative of South Africa said that, with regard to the amendment proposed by the African Group to provide comprehensive non-discrimination, South Africa voted based on its belief in the principle of non-discrimination on any grounds, including sexual orientation.  South Africa was conscious of the fact that there was no international agreement regarding the definition of sexual orientation, and believed that there needed to be a formal process on the issue. South Africa believed that they should define sexual orientation and establish parameters under human rights law.  Until there was such a discussion, there would be division, which had characterized the issue over past years.
This is certainly willful avoidance of the issue. Jam tomorrow, for gays.

The fact that sexual orientation is specifically not mentioned in this provision now forms part of the basis for arguing that it is not a protected class. It is mendacious in the extreme to claim that “non-discrimination on any grounds” implicitly covers sexual orientation. It doesn’t. In countries where it is criminal to be gay, punishment will be treated as a criminal case, not as an issue of discrimination. After all, when a thief or a rapist is punished, no one suggests it is discrimination. This is precisely the logic that will be employed.

Countries which criminalise homosexuality will certainly not take protection for sexual orientation as implied in this resolution.

South Africa knows this. Indeed, the status of gays and lesbians in South Africa is far from secure. The younger leadership of the ANC has not demonstrated it holds the progressive principles of non-discrimination as close to its heart as the party’s founders. A tabloid journalist who wrote vitriolic columns calling for the constitution to be amended to remove protection for gays and lesbians was rewarded with an ambassadorial commission to Uganda, an African country debating the re-introduction of the death penalty for homosexual offences.

Uganda, of course, will be sitting on the United Nations Human Rights Council in two years time. Just take a look at some of the bastions of civil liberties up for Human Rights council roles in the next three years. It’s an appalling joke: three of them impose the death penalty for homosexuality and at least a dozen more throw gays in prison. Saudi Arabia will be a member in 2012. They don’t even let women drive cars, or travel without the consent of a male relative… and that’s just the start of its farcical CV for the role of a Human Rights Council member.

So what is this body for? Why do we even bother to afford it any relevance or status? Clearly the nations are not united. There are those who strive – albeit imperfectly – to create a civilised world, and there are those who wish to remain barbaric. So what precisely unites the Nations?

Clearly it isn’t a common humanity. It isn’t even the will to define inhumanity.

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