Honourable Chairperson and Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,
Honourable State Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We congratulate the Commission on the event of its 75th Ordinary Session. The work of the Commission is very important to guarantee the rights of many vulnerable and marginalised people in Africa.
We express our concern and alarm at the recent decision of the Commission, as contained in the Final Communique of the 73rd Ordinary Session, to reject the applications of three organisations for observer status on the ground that “sexual orientation is not an expressly recognised right or freedom under the African Charter” and “is contrary to the virtues of African values”.
By this decision, the African Commission has deviated and acted contrary to its own established jurisprudence and normative standards. In Communication 245/02, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum v Zimbabwe, the Commission noted that the aim of article 2 of the African Charter on non-discrimination is to ensure equal treatment for individuals irrespective of nationality, sex, racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
Similarly, the Commission’s Resolution 275 on protection against violence and other human rights violations against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity affirms the Charter’s prohibition of discrimination against any individual based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
By its rejection of the observer status applications of Alternative Cote d’Ivoire, Human Rights First Rwanda, and Synergia – Initiatives for Human Rights, the African Commission creates the impression that individuals who advocate for or protect the rights of LGBTI persons cannot be human rights defenders. This contravenes the Commission’s Resolution 376/2017 on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa, in which the Commission called for the adoption of specific measures to recognise “the status of human rights defenders and protect their rights and the rights of their colleagues and family members, including women human rights defenders, and those working on issues such as … sexual orientation and gender identity.”
In addition, this decision of the Commission to reject the observer status applications of these 3 organisations sends the message to all human rights defenders on the continent that advocating for the rights of LGBTI persons would restrict their opportunities to participate within the African human rights system.
We register our profound disappointment at the Commission’s decision and consequently urge that the Commission:
- Promptly reverse its decision to reject the observer status applications of the three organisations and fulfil its mandate to protect and promote human rights for all persons, as required by article 45 of the Charter;
- Ensure to respect, protect and fulfil human rights according to international and regional human rights law and standards, free from any political interference and by upholding its independence in all its decisions;
- Reaffirm the spirit id Resolution 274/2014 in all its decisions and acknowledge the dangers of violence and other forms of discrimination against persons based on their real or imputed sexual orientation and gender identity;
- Commit to the protection of all human rights defenders without any discrimination;
- Refrain from restrictive interpretations of the Charter that negatively impact of the Commission’s mandate to protect and promote human rights for all.
Thank you for your attention.