Programme Director, Ms Singh
Judge of the Western Cape High Court, Judge Vincent Saldanha
Professor Alexandra Muller of the University of Cape Town
The Regional Head of the DoJCD, Adv Mohamed
Representatives from civil society
Representatives from government
Ladies and gentlemen, friends
There is a saying that no one should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love.
Sadly, we know that there are many places in the world - and many communities - where this is just not possible, with discrimination, violence and prejudice against LGBTI persons being a daily reality.
Last week, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) launched the 13th edition of its publication called “State-Sponsored Homophobia.”
According to the publication, at the top end of the spectrum are those countries with constitutional protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Nine countries’ constitutions explicitly mention sexual orientation as a protected ground against discrimination. Only nine – and South Africa is one of them.
At the other end of the spectrum there are currently five UN Member States that impose the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual acts, and a further five States where such a punishment is technically possible.
In 26 other countries the maximum penalty can vary between 10 years to life imprisonment.
At least 32 UN Member States have put in place provisions that limit people’s freedom of expression – including propaganda laws that prohibit the promotion of homosexuality or so-called ‘non-traditional’ sexual relations and 41 States have barriers to NGOs working in the field of sexual orientation, thus putting human rights defenders in danger.
On the positive side, international legislation that protects lesbian, gay and bisexual persons from discrimination and violence has expanded in recent years.
The number of UN Member States banning conversion therapy still stands at three, but there is progress also at the sub-national level where local legislatures have also prohibited such practices.
As ILGA states: “These are not just numbers, but laws that actually impact the daily lives of people of diverse sexual orientations around the world.”
I would go one step further and say that having good laws is one thing – but it is by no means enough.
Changing societal attitudes and fostering a climate of tolerance, respect and human dignity are equally important.
And the way to change peoples’ attitudes is through human rights awareness and dialogues.
The National Task Team on LGBTI Rights therefore decided to commemorate Human Rights Month with a series of LGBTI dialogues in various communities through its Provincial Task Teams.
The aim of these dialogues is to raise awareness of discrimination against LGBTI persons.
Today is the second last one dialogue, with the last one for the month taking place in Tshwane on Saturday.
As you know, the NTT was established in 2011 by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development with the aim of strengthening government’s ability to respond to the needs of LGBTI persons and to strengthen the capacity of civil society organisations to deliver related services.
These dialogues form part of the implementation of the National Intervention Strategy which seeks to develop prevention programmes to address violence and discrimination perpetrated on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
We are confident that the dialogues will improve the response of the criminal justice system in addressing violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.
Among the stakeholders to participating in the dialogues are faith-based organisations, traditional leaders, community-based organisations, and non-governmental organisations.
Since the establishment of the NTT there has been a significant improvement in addressing LGBTI cases in the criminal justice system.
In the current financial year, 2018/19, there are a total number of 39 pending hate crimes cases.
Ten of the cases were finalised with significant convictions, including 15 years’ direct imprisonment for murder; 13 years’ imprisonment for rape; 12 years’ direct imprisonment for murder; and 10 years’ imprisonment for rape and assault.
In January this year, five cases were finalised with convictions of life imprisonment for rape and murder; life imprisonment for rape, 15 years imprisonment for robbery and 6 years imprisonment for kidnapping. The current detection rate of NTT cases is 73%, which is much higher than the average national detection rate.
The multidisciplinary approach adopted by the NTT has worked remarkably to rapidly track hate crime cases and to respond to these cases.
We are hoping the community dialogues will further assist the work of the NTT.
Initially when the NTT was re-established in 2013, the main focus of the NTT was to address issues pertaining to the “corrective rape” issue, as was raised in the petitions to the then Minister of Justice, as well as to respond to the long outstanding cases of violence against LGBTI persons.
Six years later, it is perhaps now an opportune time to consider expanding the terms of reference of the NTT to also investigate broader discrimination issues against LGBTI persons, particularly in the sectors relating to health, home affairs, social services and labour.
To exercise this broadened role effectively, members of the NTT, particularly National Departments such as Home Affairs, Health, Social Development and so forth, should be required to report progress on the undertakings it has made to address any challenges identified.
There also appears to be an urgent need to formally document cases, violations, poor services received, any incorrect implementation of legislation and/or administrative procedures being experienced by LGBTI persons.
In this regard it will be important to provide evidence-based data, so as to enable the DoJCD to take these matters up with the relevant Departments.
Where necessary matters can, and should, also be referred to the South African Human Rights Commission for investigation, particularly in employment and private sector spaces.
I will raise the issues highlighted in today’s dialogue, and in all the other provincial dialogues, with the Departments at the NTT meeting tomorrow.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, there are about 6 weeks left of the current administration.
I have been privileged to have worked closely with many of you in the LGBTI sector over the past 6 years and I do believe that we have achieved much by way of the NTT.
I started my address with a saying, so it would perhaps be fitting to end it with another. They say love is a human experience, not a political statement.
But I do think it’s both.
It is a human experience, but it is political too.
It’s about fighting for rights, promoting those rights and protecting them whenever they are violated or infringed. It’s about activism.
I want to thank you all for your invaluable support over the past 6 years and to urge that the work we have been doing continues, that we do not lose momentum and that we continue to protect and promote the rights of LGBTI persons.I thank you.