11 July 2016

Africa: Namibia Abstains From UN Gay Rights Vote

NAMIBIA abstained from a United Nations Human Rights Council vote to appoint an expert on sexual and gender rights in Geneva, Switzerland last month.

The vote on 30 June was for a three-year appointment of an independent expert for protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to adopt a resolution on youth and human rights.

Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, the Philippines and India abstained on the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community vote.

The resolution, the human rights' organisation's website said, was adopted by 23 countries.

The independent expert will assess the implementation of existing international human rights instruments on how to overcome violence and discrimination against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to identify and address the root causes of violence and discrimination.

The decision to appoint an independent expert follows the brutal killing of 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida last month, which sparked international debate around the LGBT issue.

Namibian ambassador to Switzerland Sabine Boehlke-Moeller confirmed the development, saying she would give a detailed explanation through the international relations ministry.

After consulting with Boehlke-Moeller, justice minister Albert Kawana said the resolution was a cause of great controversy in the council, and continues to be divisive since it does not enjoy the international law premise.

He said Namibia was concerned with the independent expert's mandate that will "be allowed to interfere in sensitive issues relating to sexuality at national level".

The Universal Periodic Review position, he further said, is a Cabinet position.

"The fact that there is no binding international instrument guiding the council in the field of International Human Rights Law, which provides the council with an agreed definition of sexual orientation and gender identity, poses a legal lacuna (gap) for the council," Kawana explained.

Kawana added that many countries, even those that abstained, have spoken against the divisiveness of the resolution, the lack of international consensus on the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity as well as the need to respect cultural differences and national positions.

He said countries that spoke strongly against the resolution are South Africa, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia, amongst others.

Reacting to the abstinence yesterday, executive director of the Rights not Rescue of Namibia Trust, Nikodemus Aoxamub, popularly known as 'Mama Africa', said the country was violating international protocol and the Constitution by choosing not to participate in such an important resolution.

"The government, after 26 years of independence, has still not abolished existing laws that violate the rights of LGBT. We are saying we have good laws, but [we] are not thinking about the LGBT community," he stressed.

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