the victims of
Pillay is the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights.
Africa has given the world some powerful ideas -- foremost among
them the concept of the rainbow nation, where diversity is a
source of strength and everyone is entitled to equal rights
and respect. So it is especially saddening that the country
reborn under Nelson Mandela’s watchful eye should now
be the setting for a sinister phenomenon that undermines everything
the rainbow nation stands for: so-called “corrective”
or “punitive” rape.
rape is repugnant and constitutes a serious crime that can never
be condoned or excused. In the case of corrective or punitive
rape, women, and occasionally men, are singled out and brutally
raped because they happen to be, or are perceived to be, lesbian
or gay. Part of a wider pattern of sexual violence, attacks
of this kind commonly combine a fundamental lack of respect
for women, often amounting to misogyny, with deeply-entrenched
corrective or punitive rape has become associated primarily
with South Africa, where the majority of documented cases have
taken place, the problem is not restricted to any one country.
Cases of corrective rape have recently been reported in Uganda,
Zimbabwe and Jamaica. More generally, violent hate crimes against
lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons are prevalent
in all parts of the world -- with some particularly horrifying
incidents reported recently in the United States, the United
Kingdom, Brazil and Honduras.
report by the charity Action Aid includes testimony from 15
female survivors of corrective or punitive rape in South Africa.
In each case, the victims interviewed believed that they had
been targeted specifically because of their sexuality. Their
attackers told their victims that they were simply teaching
them “a lesson,” doing them “a favour”
and either “punishing” or “treating”
them for their homosexuality.
the latest reported attack, a 13-year-old girl was raped in
Atteridgeville, near Pretoria. During the assault, her attacker
reportedly boasted that he would “cure” her of lesbianism.
In late April, the disfigured body of lesbian activist Noxolo
Nogwaza was found in an alley in KwaThema, near Johannesburg.
She had been raped and killed, apparently after an argument
with men who had tried to proposition her girlfriend.
Nogwaza’s murder took place in the same township in which
Eudy Simelane was gang-raped and stabbed to death in 2008. Simelane
was a lesbian and a star player for the national women’s
football team, Banyana Banyana. Charges of rape and murder were
eventually laid against four men, two of whom were convicted.
Sadly, such convictions are the exception: very few other cases
of so-called corrective rape have even made it to court.
statistics on corrective or punitive rape are hard to come by.
In the absence of a more systematic approach to monitoring,
recording and investigating such crimes, it is impossible to
know the true extent of the problem, let alone hold perpetrators
to account. Many cases go unreported and those that are may
not be properly identified as homophobic hate crimes.
government in South Africa has recently acknowledged the seriousness
of the situation. Following the most recent attack in Atteridgeville,
a spokesperson for the department of justice and constitutional
development promised a swift and thorough investigation and
correctly referred to gay and lesbian rights as human and constitutional
rights. The same department also recently established a task
team on hate crimes against lesbians, gays and bisexuals and
transgender and intersex persons. These are all steps in the
that lesbians, gays and bisexuals, transgender and intersex
persons are vulnerable to violence and discrimination is an
important step towards realizing the basic rights of all people.
I understand that, in some countries, homosexuality is something
that runs against the grain of majority sexual mores. As High
Commissioner, I must stay true to universal standards of human
rights and human dignity, which are overriding. And let there
be no confusion: in speaking up for the rights of those who
are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, we are
not calling for the recognition of new rights or trying to extend
human rights into new territory. We are simply making the point
that existing international law protects everyone from violence
and discrimination, including on grounds of their sexuality
or gender identity.
are responsible for ensuring that everyone can enjoy the same
rights -- no matter who they are, where they come from, what
they look like, or whom they love. South Africans should need
no convincing of this. It was, after all, the idea on which
the country was renewed and which is today embedded in the Constitution.
South Africa’s challenge is to be true to its ideals and
to make real the promise of the post-apartheid era: a rainbow
nation where everyone is free and equal and can live comfortably
with those who are different. It is a challenge the rest of
the world would do well to take up.