Opening Remarks by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, The Hon John Jeffery

The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, The Hon John Jeffery, MP, addressed the 3rd LGBTI National Task Team Meeting, Burgers Park Hotel, Pretoria on 9 April 2015

Programme Facilitator

Members of the National Task Team
Director-General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
Colleagues and friends

Good morning to you all, it is a pleasure for me to be here and to share in today’s proceedings with you.

At the commencement of a new financial year we thought it would be opportune to meet with the National Task Team, for two reasons – firstly, to reflect on the progress made since the establishment of the NTT and, secondly, to identify key priorities for the coming financial year.

When the NTT was re-established in May 2013, the Department together with representatives from Chapter 9 institutions and civil society organisations set out to achieve a number of formidable tasks.

These included, amongst others, to develop a National Intervention Strategy to respond to, and prevent, gender and sexual orientation-based violent crimes perpetrated against LGBTI persons and to develop an Inter-sectoral Implementation Plan which would link parallel and complementary initiatives, internal and external to the DoJ&CD such as the concurrent development of a Hate Crimes Bill and Policy Framework, and the Hate and Bias Crime Monitoring Forum.

We, as an NTT, undertook to strengthen government’s ability to respond to LGBTI needs and to strengthen the capacity of CSOs to deliver related services. We set out to improve linkages with other government departments, to undertake programmes within the DoJ&CD, such as the Access to Justice and the Promotion of Constitutional Rights Programme and the National Action Plan (NAP), as well as working closely with relevant Chapter 9 institutions – such as the Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality – to combat racism, xenophobia and related intolerance and in that manner address the impact of different forms of discrimination targeting LGBTI persons.

We sought to improve the management of cases by relevant role-players in the criminal justice system, including the South African Police Service, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Department of Social Development, the Department of Health and the Department of Correctional Services. And lastly, we aimed to implement, coordinate, monitor and evaluate the National Intervention Strategy and other related objectives.

We are pleased to note that significant progress has been made to meet these objectives.   To this end we note in particular, that the National Intervention Strategy, aimed at preventing and responding to gender and sexual orientation-based violence, was finalised and launched.

The Inter-sectoral Implementation Plan for the Strategy was finalised. The Rapid Response Team meets to review progress on new and pending cases in the criminal justice system, while multi-sectoral provincial task teams have been established in all provinces, thereby improving and strengthening the issue of representation and participation in the NTT and public education initiatives embarked upon.

On behalf of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, we would like to thank each and every one of you for the commendable efforts and support given to the NTT. We acknowledge that civil society organisations are not always as well-resourced as they would like to be but, through your efforts, partnership and commitment to this process we are able to report, with confidence, that achieving the objectives of the NTT are well underway.

And, as we take stock of what has been achieved, let us remind ourselves that that our work as the NTT is not over.

In fact, it really is only the beginning.   We have laid the foundation of a much bigger task ahead.

As we plan towards celebrating the 20th anniversary of our Constitution next year, let us strengthen our focus on actual programme implementation, so as to ensure that we fight the scourge of all gender-based and sexual orientation-based violence that are perpetrated against LGBTI persons.

Around the world progress is being made in the promotion and protection of LGBTI rights. And no, progress is perhaps not always as fast as we would like it to be, but it is progress nonetheless. For example, the United Nations recently announced that it now recognizes all same-sex marriages of its staff, allowing them to receive various UN benefits. Previously, staff members’ personal status was determined by the laws of their country of nationality. But the United Nations now recognizes all same-sex couples married in a country where it is legal, regardless of their nationality.

In some instances, the fight for LGBTI rights may seem like “one step forward and two steps back” – as an article in the UK’s Guardian of this past Monday argues and says: “even as marriage equality emerges a winner in the USA, other hard-won LGBT rights are being attacked under the guise of religious liberty.”

Here in South Africa, we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter this year. And the Freedom Charter promises that “all shall be equal before the law.” Ensuring equality for all means that we must respond decisively to incidents of discrimination and crimes that are being committed against LGBTI persons, by using the mechanisms set up under the NTT.

It is imperative that, in the next financial year, we see a marked increase in the finalisation of pending cases in the criminal justice system. In addition, we must collaboratively support public education and training programmes set up under the NTT.   These should be amongst the priorities you set yourselves and your respective organisations in your deliberations here today.

At a regional level, I can advise that my counterpart in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Deputy Minister Luwellyn Landers, and I are in discussion with regional CSO’s (CAL and Amsher) on the possible convening of an Africa Regional Seminar themed “finding practical solutions for violence and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity and or expression”.

In deliberating on the proposed seminar many questions will have to be addressed. For example, can government be the appropriate partner to host the seminar given the sensitivities and challenges pertaining to participation of other African Governments?  Realistically speaking, if Government hosts the seminar, it may be unlikely to expect that more than four or five Member States will participate.

The question we need to ask is, will it not be more productive for such a seminar to be called by like-minded civil society organisations, together with the support of national human rights institutions and possibly even the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights?  These are questions we must urgently debate and resolve.

Whatever option one finally agrees to, we all must bear in mind the Resolution on Protection against Violence and other Human Rights Violations against Persons on the basis of their real or imputed Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its 55th Ordinary Session held in Luanda, Angola, from 28 April to 12 May 2014.

The Resolution condemns the increasing incidence of violence and other human rights violations, including murder, rape, assault, arbitrary imprisonment and other forms of persecution of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity. It specifically condemns the situation of systematic attacks by State and non-state actors against persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity.

It calls on State Parties to ensure that human rights defenders work in an enabling environment that is free of stigma, reprisals or criminal prosecution as a result of their human rights protection activities, including the rights of sexual minorities, and strongly urges States to end all acts of violence and abuse, whether committed by State or non-state actors, including by enacting and effectively applying appropriate laws prohibiting and punishing all forms of violence, including those targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identities, ensuring proper investigation and diligent prosecution of perpetrators, and establishing judicial procedures responsive to the needs of victims.

In view of the wording of the Resolution, it is our proposal, and we believe that it would be most beneficial, that such a Regional Seminar be held to support the Resolution of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

In conclusion, we would like to urge you as members of the NTT to strengthen and focus all your efforts towards implementation of the National Intervention Strategy.

Let us all be mindful of the words of former Chief Justice Pius Langa when he said – “Attacks on vulnerable groups, whether xenophobic or homophobic, threaten to negate the gains we have made in defeating apartheid.” This is also the message that we must get out to communities and to society at large.

I wish the NTT and its members all the very best and we look forward to reports on further progress being made by the NTT.

I thank you. – See more at: http://www.justice.gov.za/m_speeches/2015/20150409_LGBTI-NTT.html#sthash.5DxI5nTZ.dpuf

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