South Africa has voted to support the appointment of an independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity on the United Nations’ (UN) Human Rights Council, according to GroundUp. Earlier this month, the African Group, made up of 54 countries including South Africa, delivered a statement to the UN General Assembly opposing the appointment.
In response, human rights groups in South Africa penned an open letter to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), asking the country’s UN representatives to vote against a resolution to delay the appointment of the first UN expert tasked with investigating LGBT rights abuses worldwide.
Writers of the letter condemned South Africa’s then-failure to explicitly distance itself from the position of the African Group, which issued a statement arguing that sexual orientation and gender identity “should not be linked to existing international human rights instruments.”
According to the UN, the vote took place late Tuesday, with 84 countries, including South Africa, voting in favor of keeping the independent expert, 77 voting against, and 17 abstaining. Cape Verde and Seychelles were the only other two members of the African Group that voted in favor of the appointment.
Sanja Bornman, chairperson of the Hate Crimes Working Group and a member of Lawyers for Human Rights, said the vote is a step in the right direction for LGBT activism globally.
“We are very pleased and relieved by the SA vote. Now the expert can proceed with his mandate, which will benefit LGBT people around the world, including [on] the African continent,” she said.
Melanie Judge, a queer activist and an associate professor at the Center for Law and Society at the University of Cape Town, said the vote was an important reflection of South Africa’s principles.
“Historically, our government has played a leading role to advance the human rights of LGBT people, both regionally and internationally, and yesterday’s vote reasserted a commitment to this and should thus be welcomed by all South Africans.”
Still, LGBT-rights groups are questioning why South Africa did not take a direct and outward stance against the position of the African Group when its resolution was first proposed. Bornman revealed that her organization plans to engage with DIRCO in the future to explore this issue and gain some insight.