Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP at the consultative workshop on Effective Responses to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Bias-motivated Crimes held at Southern Sun, Sunnyside, Pretoria, 13 October 2017
In South Africa violence takes many forms, namely physical, sexual, economic, psychological, and emotional constituting a violation of human rights and dignity with lasting effects and consequences both for the victims themselves and also for the communities they live in.
We’ve seen an increase of incidences of violence and discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
There is also the issue of what many refer to as “corrective rape” in South Africa where lesbian women are raped due to finding a so-called “cure” for their homosexuality. There are many such cases – one being gang-rape and murder of Eudy Simelane, a member of the South African football team and LGBT-rights activist.
Earlier this week, an article appeared about a 24-year-old lesbian who had gone to Sunnyside to visit a friend, and discovered the unnamed suspect, 25, was there, as well. The assault occurred shortly after her friend left the apartment to get food. In response to the attack, ActionAid South Africa said:
“There is a clear sense of entitlement to women’s bodies which underlies the general rape pandemic, and no doubt the attack of lesbian women or women who read as gender non-conforming… The notion that women do not need men for either economic support or sexual pleasure is one that is deeply threatening to entrenched patriarchal values.”
The article also states that societal homophobia keeps many from reporting the crime. It is reported that more than 10 lesbian women per week are raped or gang-raped in Cape Town alone and at least 31 have died from the attacks over the last 10 years.
Victims of violence experience secondary victimization when accessing public services and this further discourages the victims from reporting.
Furthermore, it has also been found that many government officials and communities are ignorant about LGBTI issues - hence the need for an urgent inter-sectoral intervention.
The sensitization, not only of public officials, but also communities and the general public, on LGBTI rights remains key to ensuring a decrease, and ultimately the eradication, of hate crimes in our country.
Considerable efforts have been made by the South African Government, with assistance from the United States Government, amongst others, to address gender-based violence, and sexual violence in particular, through legislative reform and the establishment of dedicated judicial instruments to investigate and prosecute sexual offences cases.
Many present here will be familiar with the work of the National Task Team on LGBTI Rights.
The NTT, as we call it, consists of various government departments, the National Prosecuting Authority, the SAPS, The Departments of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Basic Education, Home Affairs, Department of Health, Women, Social Development and various civil society bodies.
We are also pleased to note, that it is not only within our own department - the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development – that we are seeing good initiatives and interventions taking shape around LGBTI rights, but across government.
For example, the Department of Social Development’s first National LGBTIQ Dialogue took place in Gugulethu in May this year.
The main aim of the National LGBTIQ Dialogue was to bring together key stakeholders from government, human rights and social justice activists, civil society and other development partners to discuss the struggles of people from the LGBTIQ community in an attempt to find ways to raise awareness, reduce discrimination, provide services, support interventions and law and policy reform, as well as highlight human rights issues.
The DSD has since embarked on establishing sensitization presentations for DSD officials as well as setting up a dedicated LGBTIQ Rights Focal Point and Forum.
The South Africa Police Service is also in the process of developing a Standard Operating Procedure on the handling of LGBTI issues and the Department of Home Affairs is also engaged with training of immigration officials on LGBTI rights.
The ICOP, which is a Department of Justice and Constitutional Development Project funded by USAID, is further evidence of government’s commitment to address challenges and gaps within the criminal justice system.
The key objective of this project is to improve case outcomes for sexual offences matters in five pilot sexual offences courts and catchment areas – being urban, peri-urban and rural sites. These are Durban and uMlazi Magistrates’ Courts in KZN (with the Thuthuzela Care Centre at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in uMlazi), Tonga and Boschfontein Magistrates Courts in Mpumalanga (with the TCC at Tonga Hospital), and Protea Magistrates Court in Soweto (with the TCC located at Chris Hani Baragwanath).
Recognising the pilot approach of this project, UCT as the service provider identified evidence-based best practices to improve the functioning of the pilot Sexual Offences Courts and to provide justice sector officials in these pilot courts with the necessary knowledge and skills for improving justice services to sexual offences survivors.
A lot of work has thus far been done by the service provider and has resulted in a preliminary report which was presented at the NTT meeting held on 16 May 2017. The same report will be used as a guiding tool for today’s consultative workshop with you as the experts in this field.
This workshop is an initiative convened by the Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit of UCT, together with the National Task Team. Through interactive dialogue, and using participatory methodologies, the workshop will engage with the challenges and opportunities in:
- Identifying and establishing SOGI bias-motivation at all stages of the criminal justice system; and
- Investigating, prosecuting, judging and sentencing, taking into consideration SOGI bias-motivation and adopting an LGBTI victim-centered response.
The workshop will consider what these issues mean, in practical and concrete terms, for system strengthening, and what short and medium-term interventions can be taken up by specific stakeholders as a way forward.
I wish to acknowledge and thank USAID for supporting this very important project and also our UCT colleagues for their valuable work thus far and we look forward to the finalised product.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein recently said that while many governments are moving in the right direction, too many are falling short when it comes to protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. He urged all States to outlaw discrimination against this community.
“When pressed, officials sometimes tell me their hands are tied: the public, they say, will never accept equality for LGBTI people. But surely this is back to front. If public opinion is hostile towards LGBTI people that makes it all the more urgent for governments to act to protect them.”
Let us never say that we should have done more.
Let us by part of those countries that lead by example.
In conclusion, I would like to welcome you and wish you all very fruitful deliberations.
We urge you to continue doing the great work that you do, because it is people like yourselves that encourage government to strengthen our initiatives in the protection and promotion of human rights for all.
I thank you.