South Africa has deviated from the African position at the United Nations to vote in favour of an amendment to a resolution in support of the work of the first independent UN rapporteur responsible for investigating abuses directed against LGBTI people.

The Africa group had sought to introduce a draft resolution in the third committee of the General Assembly responsible for human rights which would have deferred the work of the Human Rights Council-appointed investigator until the next session of the Assembly.

However, in a high stakes vote in the third committee on Monday, a Latin American amendment won by the narrowest of margins to ensure the African draft did not see the light of day.

With the Africa Group supported by the Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) in seeking to defer the work of the rapporteur while determining its legal status, Botswana’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Thembani Ntwaagae, introduced the draft on behalf of the Africa Group.

“In its decision to table this resolution, the group has been guided by the principles of international law, the purposes and principles enshrined in the charter of the UN and the universally accepted principles of respect for the independence and sovereignty of member states,” said Ntwaagae.

The Latin American and Western-supported amendment to the African draft succeeded, rendering attempts to defer the work of the Independent Expert on the Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, null and void. A total of 83 countries voted for the amendment, while 77 voted against with 17 abstentions.

South Africa broke ranks with its African peers, saying it took a principled position based on the country’s Constitution.

South Africa’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Jerry Matjila, said: “We cannot discriminate against people because of their own lifestyle or orientation; that we cannot do in South Africa. We cannot discriminate against people because they are LGBTI, we cannot do that, and South Africa will not do that.

“It is a position that sometimes we don’t agree with most of our friends in the continent but it’s a position that we resolved we’ll always take. It’s not a position of majority says in the continent — it’s a question of our values and our beliefs.

“It’s something we have died for and we’ll keep all the time. Even if we are alone on this one, Madam Chair, we’ll remain standing and fighting it.”

Several African countries, supported by the OIC and Russia, said they would not recognize or co-operate with the three-year mandate of the investigator, Vitit Muntarborn of Thailand.

However, South Africa was undeterred. “Our position is not based on whether we are for or against, it’s a principled position because of our Constitution; it’s a constitutional prerogative that we have to vote this way,” said Matjila.

“Madam Chairperson, this is a very difficult subject and it’s a matter very close to our hearts in South Africa, it’s a matter that many people have laid (down) their lives, who’ve died and were imprisoned; the question of discrimination. Discriminated tore South Africa apart for over 350 years and our people, both black and white, straight or not straight, came together after many, many years of painful struggles to bury discrimination once and for all.”

Several countries feel the work of the special rapporteur would impinge on the cultural, social and religious norms of sovereign countries and polarize the work of the United Nations in the area of human rights.

There are more than 70 UN member States where being gay is still criminalized.


[related_post themes="flat" id="138278"]