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Address by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, TM Masutha, MP (Adv) at the Africa Regional Seminar on Finding Practical Solutions for Addressing Violence and Discrimination Against Persons Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, 03 March 2016, at Premier Hotel - Gauteng

Programme Director
Honourable Commissioners from the NHRIs and AU Commission
Ambassadors present
Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development
Members of the Judiciary
Various representatives of civil society organisations
Human Rights Defenders
Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is indeed an honour and privilege to be present today amidst a distinguished audience of Excellences’ and Representatives of Foreign Missions stationed here in South Africa, representatives of international organisations and most importantly the human rights defenders.  We salute each of you, for your tireless efforts in striving for the protection of human dignity, equality and freedom for all!

Let me begin by reminding ourselves about an important Article outlined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which came into force on 21 October 1986.

Article 2 states that:
“Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status”. It further states that every individual shall be entitled to equal protection of the law.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, at its 55th Ordinary Session held from 28 April to 12 May 2014 adopted Resolution 275 on the protection against violence and other human rights violations on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. That Resolution 275 condemns the increasing incidence of violence and other human rights violations, including murder, rape, assault, arbitrary imprisonment and other forms of persecution of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity. It further condemns the situation of systematic attacks by State and non-state actors against persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity.

Honourable guests,
The commendable considerations mentioned above and adopted by the Commission, provide an appropriate platform for AU Member States to reflect on its treaty obligations.  Building blocks in the form of the first regional seminar in terms of Resolution 275 can, therefore, assist in  future, in bringing AU Member States, in a non-confrontational manner, to a dialogue on ensuring compliance with the May resolution as well as the relevant treaty obligations. This will help in providing practical solutions to address the scourge of violence, discrimination and dealing with the protection gap against persons discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in Africa.

Distinguished guests,
While the world still has a long way to go in achieving substantive equality, the fact that sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) issues are the topic of this global conversation is progressive step. Keeping SOGIE issues on the global agenda, means we must enhance efforts to raise awareness, build networks and strengthen collaborations and partnerships as well as endeavor to act as catalysts for positive policy and legislation.

This is exactly what this Regional Seminar seeks to achieve.  Whilst we are focussed on strengthening our regional responses to SOGIES issues, we must also be mindful of the work we do at a global level. 

In fact, there are many areas of work being done by the UN, leading to successful outcomes that actually ensure that SOGIE issues are sustained on the global agenda. By example, in June 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on human rights violations against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The report draws on recent findings of UN human rights bodies, regional organizations and non-governmental organizations, as well as information submitted by governments.

It details important recent advances in the protection of the rights LGBTI persons – including the introduction of new anti-discrimination and hate crime laws, legal recognition of same sex relationships, protection of intersex children, and changes that make it easier for transgender people to have their gender identity legally recognized. The report notes, however, that LGBT and intersex people in all regions face continuing, pervasive, violent abuse, harassment and discrimination.

Ladies and Gentlemen
Often governments are asked the question, but what about people’s traditional views or their culture or their religious beliefs and as former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said:
“People are entitled to their opinion. They are free to disapprove of same-sex relationships, for example … they have an absolute right to believe and follow in their own lives whatever religious teachings they choose. But that is as far as it goes. The balance between tradition and culture on the one hand and universal human rights on the other must be struck in favour of human rights.”

Ladies and gentlemen,
In taking Resolution 275 forward, the South African government, represented by my Department, our sister Department of International Relations and Co-operation, the South African Human Rights Commission held several meetings with CAL, ISLA and AMSHER, Regional CSOs based in the country as well as members of South Africa’s National Task Team, to discuss and find ways regarding the hosting of this long-awaited Regional Seminar. I can safely say this morning that I am happy to be standing here and to be part of this important event hosted by our Human Rights Commission.

As a country we have demonstrated our commitment to protection of the LBGTI individuals. Hardly six months after the launch of our intervention strategy in 2014, murderers of a lesbian, Duduzile in the East Rand were sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. This is evidence of aggressive stance adopted by our judiciary, law enforcement and prosecution in dealing with violence against vulnerable groups.

Program Director
This is an opportune time for the African Region to dialogue on these issues, find ways and strategies to respond or take forward Resolution 275. I stand before you, both as a leader and son of the African soil with main objective as African States, to ensure these proceedings and the outcome thereof, namely the Declaration, will be of full benefit to our continent, especially to the victims and survivors of these horrendous violations.

At the heart of the work to be done in the Region on SOGIE issues, lies one central message, that we must change societal attitudes.  That as national human rights institutions we must ensure the protection of the rights of every human being regardless of our differences. That as civil society we must strive to effect positive change in our societies.  That as Government we must respect, promote, protect and fulfill the human rights all our people.  The most important message we need to send is one of our common humanity. Regardless of the colour of our skin, our gender or sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, we all want the same things - respect, care, compassion and acceptance.  We are all human beings.

It is a message that we must spread all over Africa, We must build communities and a society in which persons are accepted and respected, irrespective of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, by all including their States.  

I wish you all the best with the Seminar and hope that you will enjoy your time here in South Africa.

I thank you.