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.