News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Wednesday October 1st 2014

Cold shoulder for gay rights in Africa

Activists from the 07-07-07 campaign light a candle in memory of Zoliswa Nkonyana who was murdered, allegedly for being a lesbian, in Khayelitsha on February 4, 2006. Photo: Sandiso Phaliso/WCN

In light of widespread attacks against homosexuals in African states, and the criminalisation of sexual orientation in some countries, gay and lesbian rights activists are outraged by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights’ (ACHPR) recent refusal to award observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL).CAL, an umbrella body affiliated to the University of Pretoria’s law faculty, submitted their application to the African Union’s commission in May 2008.

After receiving no word from ACHPR for two years, CAL made enquiries at the end of October, said CAL programmes administrator Eunice Namugwe.

Shortly thereafter they received an official letter from the ACHPR declining their application for observer status, but were given no reasons for the decision.

Namugwe said the rejection was “frustrating” given the increased homophobia practices on the continent, which affected lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

She said CAL was the only network in Africa advocating for the protection of lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people’s rights and would be appealing the decision and wanted to know the “exact reasons” for the ACHPR’s rejection.

“It implies we’re not part of the African charter as there are spaces, especially such as East and West Africa where we are not accepted or tolerated at all.”

She said the hostility in some countries was so fierce that activists had to flee in fear for their lives.

The Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) felt “let down” by the commission’s decision, said director Busi Kheswa, as CAL represented all organisations fighting for LGBTI rights on the continent.

Granting CAL observer status would contribute to the fight against homophobia and help them hold states accountable for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, she said.

This included South Africa where lesbians were raped and murdered because of their sexual choices.

An example of this was the ongoing case of Zoliswa Nkonyana who was murdered in Khayelitsha in 2006 because she was a lesbian.

The criminalisation of homosexuals in Uganda and Malawi has also hit international headlines this year.

The Kampala-based The Rolling Stone newspaper in October published a list, with photographs, of 100 homosexuals.

This was done to “help them live responsible lives” the managing editor Giles Muhame was quoted as saying.

Lesbians raped in Malawi are arrested if they report the crime, said Kheswa, and in South Africa the ‘corrective’ rape of lesbians is not seen as a hate crime.

A further blow to LGBTI rights on the continent was South Africa joining 79 countries in voting in favour of an amendment to remove sexual orientation from an anti-execution resolution at the United Nations General Assembly.

The vast majority of countries who supported the amendment were African and also included Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia and Rwanda.

The amendment called for the words “sexual orientation” to be replaced by “discriminatory reasons on any basis”, said Kheswa.

For the last ten years the term “sexual orientation” was explicitly referred to in the resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions and other killings.

South Africa adding their vote implied it endorsed the human rights violations experienced by the LGBTI community at home and abroad, said Triangle Project programme co-ordinator Jill Henderson.

“Political leaders are making decisions that contradict our constitution as LGBTI’s suffer arrest, assault, rape and even murder as homosexuality is criminalised by most African states,” said Henderson.

“The struggle is to make states aware that they need to start taking the human rights violation of LGBTI’s seriously,” she said.

Repeated attempts to get comment from the African Union and the ACHPR were unsuccessful. – Yugendree Naidoo, West Cape News

NOTE: The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights’ (ACHPR) had not responded to queries by the time of finalising this article, but West Cape News did receive a response at a later stage. The full, unedited response is below:

AU Commission response to queries:

Dear Sir / Madam,

I have been instructed to reply to your email and to address the issues raised by your email. My answers are as follows;

1. Regarding the first question as why the ACHPR rejected Cal’s application? Please be kindly informed that reasons for the rejection of the application are contained in the 28th Activity Report of the African Commission. This can be found on the website of the African Commission.

28th Activity Report states: “The ACHPR decided, after a vote, not to grant Observer Status to the Coalition for African Lesbians (CAL), South Africa, whose application had been pending before it.
“The reason being that, the activities of the said Organisation do not promote and protect any of the rights enshrined in the African Charter.”

2. As to why the Commission took so long to make a decision on CAL’s application, I wish to inform you that the Commission took long because it had to fully understand the NGO itself. It also heard representatives of the NGO during the last Session and promptly gave its position thereof.

3. On whether the Commission would reconsider its decision as CAL plans on appealing, please be advised that only the Commissioners in Session as a team can decide the matter.

4. Regarding incidents of targeted abuse against homosexuals on the continent and Whether the Commission investigated such incidences and if any what were the findings?  I would like to point out that the African Commission’s right does not routinely investigate individual, isolated human rights abuses that occur around the continent. If however a Communication is brought to it, it would have an opportunity to consider the matter in detail. Like rape, torture and other human rights violations, any allegation of massive and serious violations would have to be specifically drawn to the attention of the Commission for any investigation/fact finding mission to be set in motion – otherwise individual human rights violations should be brought to the commission through Communications.

5. Lastly as to whether the Commission condemned the published photographs of homosexuals in a Ugandan newspaper and ‘corrective rape’ committed in South Africa? I am pleased to point out that the Commission has not had sight of the published photograph in the Ugandan newspaper, neither has the issue been specifically drawn to its attention. The same applies to the “corrective rape”. If there has indeed been any ‘corrective’ rape of any person, the African Commission naturally condemns such human rights violations which clearly strike at the rights to dignity of the person and priority.

Tags: achpr, african charter, gay, gay bisexual transgender, gender, homophobia, homosexual, Khayelitsha, lesbian rights, malawi, South Africa, transgendered, university of pretoria, west africa

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