On Tuesday we celebrate Human Rights Day in remembrance of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. This day of commemoration serves two purposes. Firstly, to honour the brave protesters who resisted the cruelties of the apartheid regime and to celebrate South Africa's achievements in granting human rights post-apartheid. Secondly, Human Rights Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on where there still are shortcomings in the protection of human rights and to show solidarity with those who are not yet able to enjoy their rights fully.
Germany and Mexico currently have the privilege of chairing the Equal Rights Coalition together. This intergovernmental body of 42 member states is dedicated to the protection of the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons. So on Tuesday, we, the Ambassadors of Mexico and Germany to South Africa, would like to take this Human Rights Day as an opportunity to highlight the situation of the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, gay, bi-, trans-intersexual, queer) communities worldwide.
The United Nations has repeatedly confirmed that discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics violates international human rights law. However, over 76 countries worldwide criminalise adult same-sex relationships. In eight of them, same-sex relations are even punishable by death. Often, cultural reasons are brought forward as an argument. It is the essence of the universality of human rights, however, that each and every human being is endowed with equal human rights simply by virtue of being human – regardless of the country they live in and regardless of their personal status or any particular individual characteristics.
SA's progressive path
After overcoming apartheid, South Africa took a very progressive path to become a regional and global role model in terms of human rights. The Constitution was the world's first to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. At the time, South Africa was only the fifth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. To this date, South Africa still is the only African country to do so. South Africa later launched the first-ever resolution in the UN against discrimination based on sexual orientation, together with Brazil.
Mexico and Germany have progressed in their LGBTQIA+ legislations shortly afterwards, in the 2000s. The legal situation in Mexico, South Africa, and Germany, however, sometimes stands in stark contrast with the reality experienced by our fellow citizens. Societal acceptance is still lagging behind the legal status. LGBTQIA+ persons still often suffer from homophobic violence, such as “corrective rape” on lesbians. Globally, we observe discrimination, hatred, high rates of intense violence, even murder. This goes along with high rates of HIV and AIDS, societal stigmatisation and a lack of public health education. All of these problems demand joint global action across continents.
The Equal Rights Coalition (ERC) was formed for exactly this reason in 2016. In thematic groups, the ERC works closely with civil society as well as with stakeholders on different governance levels and sectors. As current co-chairs, Mexico and Germany want to use this format to bring forward the discussion on measures needed to protect and advance LGBTQIA+ rights.
Mexico and Germany are proud to know a champion of LGBTQIA+ rights like South Africa by our sides. We invite the South African society to join our efforts in working towards a world where every nation recognises, promotes and protects the human rights of LGBTQIA+ persons. Together, we can learn from each other how to best address the ongoing challenges. In doing so, we attempt to put into practice the joint commitment of all UN member states as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 1, first sentence: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
- Sara Valdés Bolaño, Mexican Ambassador to South Africa, and Andreas Peschke, German Ambassador to South Africa.