Durban Declaration Statement from the JWG

South African Government fails yet again to uphold Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex rights in the international arena

March 05, 2009

The Joint Working Group is deeply concerned to discover that the South African government has not only supported but indeed acted as spokesperson for a demand to remove references to sexual orientation from the draft text of the Durban II anti-racism conference draft declaration.

Although primarily focussed on issues of race, both this text and the World Conference Against Racism process more broadly attempts to view all forms of discrimination as intersectional and recognises that you cannot act against one form of discrimination only. In this spirit, discrimination on grounds of gender is included within the ambit of the declaration. In a similar vein, a section was included which condemns "all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation". South Africa, speaking on behalf of the Africa Group objected to this provision on the grounds that it 'goes beyond the framework' of the original Durban Declaration.

The Joint Working Group finds this justification for demanding the removal of sexual orientation from the declaration entirely unacceptable. These conferences are designed to focus on issues relating to discrimination and intolerance. To separate out discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as less important than or more acceptable than the many other forms of discrimination is dangerously misguided and entirely inconsistent with the South African Constitution. It also ignores the way in which intersecting discriminations play themselves out in South Africa, not least around the issue of Hate Crime targeting black lesbian women in our townships and rural areas.

We are further disturbed that this matter far from being a once off occurrence is in fact the latest in a long line of failures of the South African government to support LGBTI rights and indeed broader human rights issues in the international arena. The most recent example of such behaviour was the disgraceful decision by our government not to sign a statement affirming the rights of LGBTI people that was read in the United Nations General Assembly in December 2008.

It has become painfully clear that the government is simply unwilling to stand up for the principles that our country has fought so hard for in the international arena if they would risk alienating some members of the Africa block of states.

Instead of acquiescing in perpetuating discrimination and inequality, South Africa should make use of its position as a leader among the African states to try and advance LGBTI rights within those regions and thus uphold the dignity and equality of all individuals as it is clearly required to by the South African Constitution.

We demand that South Africa starts to advocate in the international arena for the same rights it enshrines for its own people. Further we hope that between now and the Durban conference the government reviews its position on the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Declaration.

For more information please contact
Emily Craven
Joint Working Group
011 403 5566
011 403 5567

  • The Joint Working Group, established in 2003, is a national network of 26 organisations of and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (hereinafter referred to as LGBTI people) in South Africa representing the organised LGBTI sector, acting and speaking in the interest of our respective and diverse constituencies. We exist to advance and promote the rights of LGBTI people through constructive dialogue and collaboration, social mobilisation, public education to strengthen positive expressions, advocacy and research. – Issued by JWG

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