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.