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Human Rights organisations call on South African authorities to denounce attacks against South Africa’s Constitution, human rights and equality

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9 August 2023

In view of the participation of members of South Africa’s executive and judiciary in the annual African Bar Association conference, which this year is being co-sponsored by Family Watch International, an organisation that has been accused of spreading hate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary and other gender- diverse people (LGBTQ+) persons, among others, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Gender Dynamix (GDX) call on the South African authorities participating in this event to uphold the South African Constitution, human rights, equality and non-discrimination and denounce any attacks against LGBTQ+ persons.

The annual conference of the African Bar Association in cooperation with the University of South Africa (UNISA) is scheduled from 6 to 10 August 2023. The list of special guests includes high-ranking individuals like South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and other African counterparts.

A representative of Family Watch International spoke at the opening ceremony yesterday, 7 August 2023, highlighting purported “concerns” about perceived negative Western influences on African countries.  The assertions made by the representative of Family Watch, Dr. Seyoum Antonios, concern a partnership agreement between the European Union, on the one hand, and African, Caribbean and Pacific States, on the other, which has not been signed yet. In his speech, Dr Antonios attempted to discourage African States from signing the agreement as it apparently references the protection of human rights, such as the right to equality. With respect to the protection of sexual and reproductive health rights, Dr. Antonios stated that, “This is all being done deceptively under the banner of something called sexual and reproductive health right or SRHR. A manipulative term created to hide the LGBT, abortion and child sexualisation and transgender agenda of the European Union and other donor countries.” Such statements are ostensibly aimed at creating a climate of profound dislike, extreme fear, discrimination and misinformation against any LGBTQ+ person.

SALC’s LGBTIQ+, Sex Work & Disability Programs Manager, Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, emphasised that:

“The spread of hate and discrimination against the LGBTIQ community in Africa by Family Watch International is sadly nothing new. What is shocking is that South African members of the judiciary and the executive are participating in a conference that is sponsored by a group that clearly stands against human rights of dignity and equality, which are core pillars of our society. This is not the time for acquiescence, silence, or non-alignment. In times like these, such are enabling factors that contribute to the erosion of human rights in Africa. There is no space for hate or discrimination under the South African constitution and international law.”

ICJ’s Africa Director, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh further highlighted that:

“In line with Article 5 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), South Africa has an obligation to take measures to prevent individuals and groups from any act that seeks to destroy or limit the human rights of other individuals or groups of individuals, particularly when such acts are motivated in whole or in part and grounded on prohibited discrimination. In light of this, while stressing the right of any individual to freedom of religion or belief and their right to freedom of expression, we call on the South African authorities to be extremely vigilant and ensure that, consistent with South Africa’s obligation under Article 20(2) of the ICCPR, they do not tolerate any advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

In addition, we point out that discrimination within a healthcare setting, presents barriers for persons who are socially disadvantaged due to their sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, or other factors and this negatively affects their health and well-being. Discriminatory bias is a public health problem.”

Gender Dynamix’ Assistant Regional Programmes Manager and Education Advocacy Officer, Khanyisile Phillips, deplore the position of Family Watch International and Members of the South African judiciary and executive, she underscored that:

“A democratic society has a mandate to defend human rights principles for all humans, based on equality, dignity, freedom, and a deep understanding of justice. Despite this, we are constantly learning about the realities of our democracy. An attack against gender, identity, freedom, personal and bodily autonomy constitutes an assault on our democracy. We cannot endorse, sit back, and watch conservatism become an instrument of hatred and oppression; we must actively safeguard the functioning of our constitution, defend our true African values of Ubuntu, and create a world in which every person is treated with the same respect, afforded the same rights, and treated equally with dignity.  It is critical that we recognize the potential of solidarity and empathy during this time as we navigate the fractional protection our democratic government afford South Africans of diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities, Expressions and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC), by accepting the invitation to speak at this event.”

SALC, ICJ and GDX call on the President of South Africa and other members of the South African executive, judiciary and legislature speak up against groups that stand against human rights of equality and non-discrimination anchored in the South African constitution.

Background Information

Family Watch International advertises itself as a non-profit organisation; it has been continuously attacking LGBTQ+ people in Africa. Family Watch International has been accused of being instrumental in passing Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality bill. Family Watch International has published policy briefs that clearly stigmatize and discriminate against LGBTQ+ persons.

Family Watch International was a sponsor to the 2022 annual conference by the African Bar Association, where the Executive Director, Sharon Slater, spread fear concerning sexual and reproductive health rights and LGBTQ+ people.