Sunday, May 30, 2010

SA GLAAD Welcomes Release Of Malawi Couple Imprisoned For Their Love

SA GLAAD welcomes the decision of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, to pardon and release Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, after a Malawian court convicted them of homosexuality under archaic British colonial-era laws, and sentenced them to 14 years hard labor.

We encourage President Mutharika and the people of Malawi to continue their growth towards democracy and the enshrinement of equality and human rights in their Constitution by repealing all laws which contradict the progressive spirit of their Constitution and negatively impact on the value of human life and dignity of minority groups.

We would like to praise and thank all individuals, human rights groups, churches, political and civil bodies who participated in whatever manner, in the global campaign for the release of the Malawian couple - and for speaking out in defense of human rights and equality - in particular UK human rights activist, Peter Tatchell, who led their defense and facilitated humanitarian access to them. We hope they will continue to do so in other states wherever human rights are threatened or otherwise absent.

We call on all governments in Africa and around the world to recognize the importance and necessity of including all people in the fabric of their societies - and to protect all their citizens under just laws which reflect the vision that all people are created equal, and which nurture the freedom, dignity and equality of all individuals and groups - and respect these freedoms, which are key to social advancement and peaceful progress.

We commend and thank the South African President, Jacob Zuma, for speaking out on the matter on Thursday.

We hope that this shining example will light the way for other countries where human rights are trampled underfoot and fear, intimidation, torture, persecution and oppression are the order of the day.

We encourage President Zuma to continue to speak out against the gross abuses of human rights elsewhere in Africa, such as in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Rwanda, DRC and in Uganda - the worst case, where currently a Bill remains undecided, which would provide for the death sentence for being gay, and existing laws also prescribe 14 year jail terms. The freedom of living and loving openly is currently denied to people living in no fewer than 38 African states.

South Africa, as the only country on the Continent where GLBTI people have full legal equality, is a beacon of human rights and equality for the world - and fifteen years after the adoption of our new Constitution, clearly demonstrates that perceived threats and fears of according people the rights and mercies to live and love unhindered by oppressive and conservative laws are wholly unfounded and totally baseless.

We also encourage President Zuma and the South African government to open dialogue with human rights advocacy organizations in Africa, and in South Africa, who have been campaigning against such human rights violations across the continent for years without any recent acknowledgment or engagement from the South African government. We hope that this will be the start of a new age of co-operation and growth in the betterment of human rights in Africa, our continent.

We would also like to express our gratitude and admiration for Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga for, through their suffering, helping to bring about change and betterment and for being an inspiration to millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people around the world. We wish them well for the future!

Friday, May 21, 2010

SA GLAAD Applauds Religious Leaders For Speaking Out Against Human Rights Abuses

SA GLAAD applauds the courage, efforts and initiative of the group of religious leaders who this week signed a memorandum against the role that was played by "religious fundamentalism and the patriarchy" in the increase of homophobic hate in Southern Africa over the last few months.

SA GLAAD has over the past few years been warning of the dangers posed against human rights, equality, democracy and the South African Constitution by patriarchy and religious fundamentalism.

The religious leaders who signed the memorandum included Arch Bishop Rowan Smith of St George's Cathedral, Dr Allan Boesak and his wife Elna, pastors Marius Brand, Ecclesia de Lange, Laurie Gaum, Judith Kotze and Pieter Overholzer, bishop David Russel and Marlow Valentine.

Of special note, this group publicly opposed steps taken in Uganda to punish homosexuality by death, as well as attacks against gay people in Malawi and Kenya and warned against a return to patriarchal cultural traditions in our own country by some leaders, which does not bode well for a more tolerant and respectful future around the issues of human rights facing sexual minorities in Africa.

We would like to applaud these leaders for their progressive stance and for emphasizing the more moderate and progressive position within the Christian faith on the issue, for encouraging and fostering an atmosphere of tolerance, acceptance and welcoming within the Christian community and for encouraging "a greater understanding of God's love and mercy for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation."

We would like to support them in their call, as stated in their memorandum, "for South Africans to emphasize again the freedom that was fought for so hard. All citizens, no matter what their gender, orientation or cultural roots, have a responsibility to the community to be involved in the fight for human rights, freedom and equality for all."

SA GLAAD Condemns Malawi For Anti-Human Rights Verdict

SA GLAAD strongly condemns the verdict and sentence of the Malawian court this week in the much-publicized case against Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, the two Malawians who have been sentenced to 14 years jail for being in a perceived gay relationship.

The law under which the 14-year prison sentence has been handed down is a decaying remnant of Malawi's archaic colonial past, and itself is unconstitutional as it is a discriminatory law that only applies to same-sex relations. Malawi's constitution guarantees equal treatment and non-discrimination to all citizens.

The state of prisons and the care of inmates in Malawi is such that medical care and rations are substandard. The mortality rate in such prisons is very high and this 14-year term can in fact be equated to a death sentence. Before their conviction, this couple had already spent nearly five months behind bars, which were punctuated by reports of serious illness which were relayed from within the prison where these two people were incarcerated, despite not having committed any genuine crime or causing any harm. Descriptions of the sentence by locals include the comments that this is a harsher sentence than those given to hardened criminals in Malawi.

The South African government has an extraordinary responsibility as the only state on the African continent where sexual minorities have civil rights and equality, to support the human rights principles enshrined in our Constitution.

We urge the South African government to enter into dialog with Malawi to urge their government to institute badly needed legal reform, repeal this conviction, release Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga - or alternately to offer asylum to the couple.

We also urge the UN and nations which supply foreign aid to countries which show callous disregard for human rights in this manner, to review their policies regarding funding and aid and to attach conditions to this funding and aid. By funding governments which abuse and disregard human rights, these countries - by their commendable selfless generosity, are unwittingly bankrolling terror against innocent people.

It is our view that if governments are allowed to tell people how they may live in the privacy of their own homes and who they may love or be in a relationship with, they are on a slippery slope to oppression, despotism and aggravated human rights violations.

We condemn the draconian anti-human rights sentiments currently being displayed in Malawi and in other parts of Africa, such as Uganda - and urge the South African government to speak out against these monstrous acts.

Such things do not belong on the law books of countries which strive to grow, develop and improve themselves, and to enshrine the democratic values of human rights, freedom and equality for all.

This court verdict is a brutal condemnation of a whole community which lives in fear and in unhealthy secrecy in Malawi, and which now will be more afraid and more intimidated, and will become even more secretive and even more unhealthy.

If Malawi is serious about its commitment to human rights - and its concern about the global HIV pandemic - it will overturn this verdict, repeal discriminatory anti-human rights laws and partner with community-based groups to create a safe environment where diverse people can harmoniously co-exist.

We applaud all local and international leaders, governments, groups and individuals who have taken a stand and spoken out against this vulgar attack on human rights and encourage all people who value human rights, freedom and equality to do the same.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

SA GLAAD Criticizes Verdict of BCCSA That It Is Okay To Use "Gay" As A Derogatory Term Meaning "Stupid"

SA GLAAD reacts with dismay at the verdict of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa on the complaint lodged by Cecil Janse van Rensburg about a regular feature on the University of Pretoria's radio station, TUKS FM, hosted by DJ Konstant de Vos, in which listeners are asked to call or sms about whether a person's behaviour is “gay” or “ok”.

According to its statement, the BCCSA refused to uphold the complaint, saying that "the word gay was not used to refer to homosexuality, but according to widespread current usage of the word amongst young people, to a carefree attitude and unjustifiable statements."

We take issue with the BCCSA's findings that "the broadcast was not intended to injure, that it was not malicious or mala fide" when the word usage very clearly defines the word "gay" - a word used to describe homosexuality since the 1960's - as the polar opposite of what is considered "ok", good or acceptable.

We also object to the BCCSA's statement that "the word gay was not used to refer to homosexuality, but according to widespread current usage of the word amongst young people, to a carefree attitude and unjustifiable statements." when the world is described and defined clearly in the Oxford dictionary as "gay

• adjective (gayer, gayest) 1 (especially of a man) homosexual. 2 relating to homosexuals. 3 dated light-hearted and carefree. 4 dated brightly coloured; showy.

• noun a homosexual person, especially a man.

— DERIVATIVES gayness noun.

— USAGE Gay is now a standard term for ‘homosexual’, and is the term preferred by homosexual men to describe themselves. As a result, it is now very difficult to use gay in its earlier meanings ‘carefree’ or ‘bright and showy’ without arousing a sense of double entendre. Gay in its modern sense typically refers to men, lesbian being the standard term for homosexual women.

— ORIGIN Old French gai."

We find it relevant to ask which dictionary the BCCSA are using, and how they arrived at this infamous and defamatory verdict which in essence dictates that it is perfectly "okay" to use the word "gay" to describe anything negative, "not okay" and in particular "stupid"?

We take pains to highlight the harm done in terms of hate speech and offense caused by inferring that a person is "stupid" by some prejudiced people, simply based on inborn characteristics such as their sexual orientation - by attempting to change the meaning of a term used to describe an entire community of people to mean "stupid" - or worse.

Leading off this point, we would like to note that referring to people or things as "gay", meaning "stupid" should be no more or less offensive than calling people "black" or "white" to mean "stupid" or "bad". Same difference - only, one the BCCSA would seem to care about - the other, obviously not.

There are many people, particularly young people, struggling to accept their own identities - and trying to find acceptance in an already prejudiced and hostile society without the added pressure of having more negative connotations added to the term which describes them and the community they form a part of. This verdict of the BCCSA is a very irresponsible and insensitive slap in the face to our community.

This is yet another case in point of human rights and equality laws in South Africa not being adhered to - and made to fail those whom they were intended to protect.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

SA GLAAD Expresses Outrage At Reports Of SA Sneaking Jon Qwelane Into Kampala As Ambassador

The South African Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation expresses anger and outrage at the news that Jon Qwelane, the homophobic and racist journalist who has yet to appear in the Equality Court to face charges of hate speech and incitement to hate is now in Kampala to take up his appointment as South African Ambassador.

We react with disgust to the news from the SA Human Rights Commission that Mr Qwelane who could not be traced for a lengthy period to be served notice of his court appearance, finally received them - but did not respond within the specified period to say whether or not he would appear - only to find that this man is in Uganda to act as South Africa's Ambassador!

It is this sort of cavalier disregard for the SA Constitution and law and order which lies at the heart of the current disregard for the value of human rights in South Africa.

According to public news sources, Qwelane was "sneaked" into Uganda along with President Zuma's entourage during his state visit to Uganda two weeks ago and is awaiting confirmation as the new South African Ambassador by Ugandan President Musseveni.

This, despite recent calls to not follow through on the appointment of a known racist and homophobe to such a post in a country where there is a strong move by the Ugandan government to install the death penalty as punishment for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Ugandans.

This follows the revelation that calls by human rights movements for President Zuma and the SA Government to speak out against Uganda's Gay Genocide Bill have fallen on deaf ears, and that they have made no response to, nor even acknowledged these calls.

We see this as President Zuma and the SA Government's demonstration of the lack of respect or consideration for the feelings, dignity and human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex South Africans and Ugandans.

We see this move to install a dangerously outspoken homophobe in a position where he can do grievous damage to both the image of South Africa and the lives of innocent Ugandans - and to help him avoid facing the charges brought against him - as a slap in the face - and confirmation that South Africa's human rights ethos is officially dead and buried.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

SA GLAAD Condemns Media24 Challenge To Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act

In an update from the South African Human Rights Commission, SA GLAAD today learned that not only is Media24, which is named as the first respondent in the Jon Qwelane Hate Speech case, challenging the case on merit - but the media conglomerate is also cavalierly challenging the validity of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, No 4 of 2000 - or, as it is euphemistically stated - "certain provisions" of it, in the High Court.

At this stage, the Act is the main defence which is used - via the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, Press Ombudsman and SA Human Rights Commission - against hate speech and defamation by human rights groups and also individuals lodging complaints on the basis of discrimination against sexual orientation and gender. A famous example was the Moreletta Park court case of 2008, which was effectively decided by this Act.

Point 2 of the communique from the SAHRC says: "[Attorneys for Media24]...lodged an Interlocutory Application at the Equality Court challenging certain provisions of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, that we have relied on in the main application." and point 4: " Counsel has advised us to agree to a stay of proceeding in the main application so that the issues raised by Media 24 in the interlocutory application can be thrashed out in the High Court – this is where we are at the moment." Which basically means nothing more will happen in this regard until Media24 goes to the High Court and their challenge is heard and settled first. This matter could even end up having to go as far as the Constitutional Court. Aside from the fact that Media24 (or possibly, Jon Qwelane) would not be prosecuted until then, if at all - depending on the outcome - this could take years to settle - and could be described as a very clever legal maneuver.

Of course one has to wonder what will happen should the High Court agree with Media24 and strike down Act no 4 of 2000, or even part of it - because then they will have cleared a path to directly challenge the remaining anti-discrimination clauses in the SA Constitution itself.

As some may be aware, Act No4 of 2000 was specifically designed to fill the gap in the SA Constitution (in sec 16.2c which is the location of a loophole) through which hate speech and discrimination against sexual orientation and gender used to slip. Should Act No4 be amended to remove any of the groups protected within it, or to alter the terms of protection, then it could very well mean "open season" on any of the groups now using this Act to ensure equality in the workplace - and to take on perceived hate speech.

It is for this very reason that human rights groups were very disappointed that the provisions within the Act were not included directly in the Constitution itself, but instead embodied separately in the Act - and as Media24 may be about to prove - it is far easier to challenge an Act than to challenge the Constitution of South Africa.

One does not wish to make assumptions, but it is hard to think of any reasons why Media24 would do this, other than because it may agree with the remarks made by Jon Qwelane in his now infamous article "Call me names, but gay is NOT okay..." of July 2008 - and that it may feel that such unadulterated hate speech against a minority group truly belongs in public media.

It is a sad day indeed when a media conglomerate which owns enough of South Africa's news industry to warrant thinking of it as a monopoly, indirectly attacks the Constitution by brazenly questioning an Act envisaged in section 9 of the Bill of Rights because it might not agree with restrictions on who it is - or not - allowed to publicly express hate speech against with impunity.

The opening line of the address made by Dr Mixael De Kock at the protest outside the Media24 offices in Johannesburg, only a few days after the publication of the hateful column in question, quite succinctly sums up what a lot of people feel - in that "“Media 24 is the pretty new dress replacing the Nazi-uniform of the old NASIONALE PERS". One wonders why the public expression of hatred and incitement to hatred deserves to be - or should be - protected.

Further, according to the SAHRC document, Jon Qwelane was (finally) traced by the clerk of the Equality Court and was served his court papers - and has given no indication within the given deadline that he would defend himself - or whether he would even appear in court at all. The HRC is still debating whether to proceed without him.

It is of course, entirely likely that Mr. Qwelane may be far too busy to attend his trial at the Equality Court, as according to our last update, he has been appointed by President Zuma as Ambassador to Uganda - where they treat gay people exactly as he suggested in his hateful column, if not actually worse.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SA GLAAD Condemns Continued Silence Of SA Govt On Uganda Issue

SA GLAAD condemns in the strongest possible terms the complete and continued silence of the South African government on the issue of human rights and the Gay Genocide Bill being debated in Uganda's Parliament.

South Africa is a country whose Constitution promises dignity, equality and legal protections to everyone - including GLBTI people, but whose government has thus far completely ignored all requests from human rights advocacy groups in South Africa to speak out on this issue, and to add its voice to the weight of condemnation from those countries who are concerned with the welfare of the human rights of the Ugandan people.

In the past three years, South Africa's government has not said a single word on the issue surrounding the human rights violations of Ugandan GLBTI people, or even so much as admitted that there is a severe human rights problem in Uganda. We would like to point out once again that South Africa shamefully refused to sign the UN Declaration to Decriminalize Homosexuality in December 2008 for reasons of "having principles". Indeed, we are still waiting to hear the SA government admit what these "principles" are.

Why has President Zuma, who visited Uganda this past week, and consulted with Uganda's President Yowri Musseveni, and even addressed Uganda's Parliament - not condemned either the Ugandan Genocide Bill or the shocking oppression under which GLBTI Ugandans live daily?

Activists have been asking for months why South Africa's government has been ignoring our questions and requests to speak out on the Ugandan issue. Email, telephone and fax campaigns by SA GLAAD and other groups and members of the public have gone unanswered and unacknowledged, while our government has given us, repeatedly, reason to doubt their enthusiasm for gay rights and equalities enshrined in our Constitution.

In October 2009 SA GLAAD ran a telephone campaign to call the Presidential Hotline to ask President Zuma to speak out on this issue - which, like earlier email campaigns, produced no discernible results - and no acknowledgement from the government or the Presidency.

The Bill in question, which is still being debated in the Ugandan Parliament - and will by default condemn millions of innocent Ugandans to death simply for being born gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex - and simply for being a favorite scapegoat and target for the hatred of an increasingly virulent homophobic agenda in Uganda. Uganda goes so far in its official policy of hatred that it refuses to recognize the clear differentiation between Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people - but classifies and condemns them all as homosexual - and while the current law prescribes prison terms for such people - the new law will codify the death sentence.

This legislation will also effectively turn many heterosexual people into criminals just for not reporting the existence of GLBTI colleagues, neighbors, clients, family members and friends to the authorities, and for "harboring criminals". Much of the new law also seems focused on the State confiscating the property of such "criminals", which leads us to question the motives behind such a law.

This bill has over the past six months drawn the ire and outright condemnation of churches, companies, advocacy groups, the UN, and governments from countries all over the world - except the most prosperous and influential country in Southern Africa.

Mr Zuma, your speech in the Ugandan parliament mentioned unity and "moving closer" to Uganda. You mentioned nothing about the cruel policies being enforced by the Ugandan government - which violate human rights by every definition of the term. You seem to want the people of South Africa to believe that stronger ties and even unity with impoverished neighbors who have inferior concepts of human rights and inadequate perceptions of the value of human life - are more important than the very principles which you seem keen on trading away - and that this is somehow a good thing for all concerned!

We are offended by the hypocrisy of a government whose Ministers call art "pornographic" and "contrary to nation-building" and which seeks to limit freedom of expression on the pretext of "morality" - and yet when an opportunity to prove its "morality" presents itself, sides with abusers of human rights and those who glorify acts of terror - and shows solidarity with those who commit crimes against humanity.

We are profoundly shocked by the sheer hypocrisy of those who claim moral high ground - and trade human lives and dignity for the sake of power and wealth and political expediency.

It is becoming abundantly clear that people who live in South Africa need to ask themselves what the ANC's new "morality vote", the government's support of groups such as the NILC, its failure to live up to its vocal claims of "morality", and its failure to speak out in defence of human rights - may mean for the future of those very human rights in our own country.

More than just the opportunity to speak out against these stark crimes against humanity has gone down the tubes, Mr Zuma - South Africa's human rights record has as well.

Monday, March 29, 2010

SA GLAAD Applauds Canada For Apprehending "Dr. Shock"

SA GLAAD applauds Canadian authorities for apprehending Dr Aubrey Levin, aka "Dr Shock" - a man who is believed to have fled to Canada to avoid facing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990's - and for launching an inquiry into his activities in Canada and also for investigating charges of human rights abuses from when he was in South Africa. We welcome the fact that all criminal cases in Canada, in which this person has participated as a witness for the prosecution are currently also being reviewed. We applaud the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta for suspending Levin’s license to practice. We applaud Canada for the over-all thoroughness evident in the way this sensitive issue is being handled.

We express our sympathies and solidarity with the unfortunate Canadian victims now coming forward.

We would like to point out - as does the quote from the following newspaper article (which dates from 2000) - an entire decade ago, the blatant inaction and apathy which has overshadowed this matter from the very beginning, and which has allowed this unpleasant and most distasteful situation to spread outside the borders of South Africa.

"Some of the charges against Dr. Levin are not new.

The War Resister, a publication of the Committee of South African War Resisters, first blew the whistle on him in January 1987, for his alleged use of forced aversion shock therapy against gay conscripts.

Untouched by Charges of Abuse Ten years later, in June 1997, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission named Levin for possible "gross human rights abuses" for the same reason (no mention was then made of the 'sex-change' program). However, the Commission apparently made no effort to serve him a subpoena. By then, Levin was already in Canada. Levin could still be prosecuted in South Africa for his alleged human rights abuses because he never applied the Commission for amnesty, nor was granted it.

Dr. Levin is not the only apartheid-era military psychiatrist linked to human rights abuses who continues to practice."

And yet, have ANY of these practitioners ever been charged or convicted for their crimes?

Why not? Judging by the amount of paperwork generated by advocacy groups since 1987 on this issue, and the number of victims interviewed by them, surely there was enough evidence to launch an inquiry?

Reading the plethora of articles on this case, the reams of claims, accusations and potential charges of abuse of human rights and assorted crimes against humanity which can and should be levelled at Levin - and resolved in a legal arena - and the stated support for this case as far back as 1987 - by so many organizations at various times, ranging from the SA Council of Churches to other social groups in a "coalition, which represents more than 74 lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual organizations in South Africa", we are wondering why this man was allowed to go unchallenged and unpunished for so long.

Levin's methodology of "aversion therapy" became outdated and obsolete when homosexuality ceased being viewed worldwide, as a "mental illness" in 1973. Why were these blatant violations of both the Geneva Convention and the Tokyo Declaration allowed and even allowed to be covered up?

Why did the TRC let him off the hook so easily? Why were these charges not made, why was he allowed to leave the country and why was he not extradited after the fact to face his accusers?

Numerous Apartheid medical figures responsible for torture and medical "experiments" performed on political prisoners solely on the grounds of race, remain imprisoned to this very day - yet this man never even faced charges for strikingly similar crimes based solely on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

News articles show that for years, Aubrey Levin has threatened publications and investigators with law suits to dissuade them from pursuing the matter, and relying on the legal premise that he has not been found guilty and therefore has to be innocent - and yet he has never been charged, has intentionally avoided facing such charges - and has also therefore, never been proven innocent.

It is indeed a pity that the technology which brought about his undoing in Canada did not exist at the height of his power in South Africa.

The TRC never charged him and the charges suggested by the TRC never even included his abuses against the pink community. This shocking failure on South Africa's part should not be forgotten. This decades-long fiasco highlights the fact that once again, South Africa has failed its GLBTIQ citizens and their families - and now another country has to fix it.

SA GLAAD expresses disappointment in the obvious fact that people in another country have been harmed because of the failings of a process which should have been resolved in South Africa at least ten years ago - but we are hopeful that Canadian justice will run its course and set things right, in the name of human rights - and that "Dr. Shock" will no longer be allowed to hurt anyone again.