Statement: Human Rights Day

Pan Africa ILGA – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Human Rights
87 De Korte Street, 9th Floor, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa


On 21 March 1960, 70 people were killed and hundreds of others injured when police opened fire on a peaceful crowd in Sharpeville that was protesting the country’s pass laws. In the days that followed, more than 18000 people were detained including prominent anti-apartheid activists. With the international focus that the event created the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 134 on 1 April 1960 which voiced the Council’s anger at the policies and actions of the apartheid government.

Today, we look back on that day in 1960 and recognize that while the war was won against Apartheid, the murder of minorities continues to happen in South Africa and on the continent. While data about hate-based murders are not readily available, where they are available, African countries dominate the world’s most dangerous places for LGBTI people. In the foreground of the battle against LGBTI people is the continued spread of radical Christianity spread by American missionaries, along with the widespread belief that homosexuality is “unAfrican”. 34 of the 54 African countries criminalize homosexuality, punishable by death or long-term imprisonment, and in the majority of countries where it is not illegal, outdated laws like “debauchery” are used to wrongfully arrest citizens, as has been the case in the long list of arrests in Egypt over the last year.

“In 1960, black people were killed for peacefully protesting the fact that they were treated differently because they were black. That was the atrocious event that created the day we commemorate today. We are commemorating this day at a time where people are still being stigmatised, discriminated against, ostracised, and even killed for being of a different sexual orientation, gender identity or expression in the African continent.” – Anthony Oluoch, Program Manager, Pan Africa ILGA

In South Africa, the country with the most progressive constitution in Africa and amongst the most progressive in the world, a staggering four out of ten LGBT South Africans know of someone who has been murdered for being or suspected of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

At PAI, our work is grounded on the ideals set out in international human rights as adopted by the United Nations in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We continue to uphold, promote and defend these human rights, founded on the belief that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Rights are human rights. And this work is essential in a continent where human rights, and specifically the rights of LGBTI people continue to be violated daily, not only in countries that are the focus of media attention, like Egypt and Zanzibar, but also in countries where reports of human rights violations against LGBTI people are censored.

On this day we also celebrate the wins that give us hope: the South African constitution, and the legal strides made in Kenya and Botswana that have given unprecedented freedoms to the LGBTI communities. We will continue to celebrate these advances and will continue to fight for the human rights of marginalized communities throughout Africa with our partners, colleagues and fellow activists.

We continue to protest the treatment of people due to their perceived differences, as we continue to work towards a world that is just. One that does not discriminate against people due to their race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, gender, sex characteristics, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language or birth. At Pan Africa ILGA, we are working to ensure that the atrocity of 21 March 1960 is never forgotten and never happens again.