/ 25 February 2014

SA responds to anti-gay laws by ‘taking note’

A 21-year-old gay man
A 21-year-old gay man

In a statement released a day after Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni signed a new law severely criminalising homosexual acts, South Africa has responded to what world leaders have called odious legislation that contravenes basic human rights.

The issue was highlighted at the Sochi Winter Olympics too, which took place in the context of protests against Russia's recent law making "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" illegal, as well as Nigeria's law banning any form of gay partnership.

The carefully phrased department of international relations and co-operation statement on Tuesday did not mention Uganda by name, saying only that South Africa took "note of developments regarding the situation of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transsexual and intersex persons (LGBTI) worldwide", and that the South African government would, "through existing diplomatic channels, be seeking clarification on these developments from many capitals around the world".

It went on: "South Africa views the respect for the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental freedoms as a critical pillar of our domestic and foreign policies; hence they are enshrined in our Constitution. South Africa believes that no persons should be subjected to discrimination or violence on any ground, including on the basis of sexual orientation."

The statement noted that in South Africa "we also have challenges of our own in this regard", saying the government had "decided to adopt measures aimed at significantly enhancing our protection mechanisms aimed at curbing violence against the LGBTI community". The statement did not say what those measures were.

Museveni signed the controversial Bill, which was passed by Uganda's Parliament in December, into law on Monday. Earlier, Museveni had delayed signing the Bill, while he asked an expert panel to advise him on the proposed law. The panel concluded that homosexuality was neither a disease nor an "abnormality", and should not attract any additional legal sanction, but the ministerial report to the president on the panel twisted its conclusions to support greater criminalisation of homosexuality. Uganda already has colonial-era laws relating to sexual crimes.

The Associated Press reported the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has warned that "experience from other jurisdictions with similarly draconian laws, such as Nigeria or Russia, indicates that their implementation is often followed by a surge in violence against individuals thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

"The Ugandan government has not indicated any plans to counter such violence or to investigate potential allegations of abuse."

In a confusing speech on Monday, when he signed the Bill into law, Museveni blamed "Western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality and lesbianism, just as they carelessly handle other issues concerning Africa". He said he was concerned about homosexuals "promoting" themselves, and about "exhibitionism", which he felt "should be punished harshly in order to defend our society from disorientation".

He warned about "wrong practices indulged in and promoted by some of the outsiders", especially oral sex, because "the mouth is not engineered for that purpose" and it was "very unhealthy".