In this statement, the Coalition of African Lesbians congratulates the decision of the African Commission on Human and People´s Rights to grant Observer Status to CAL, a network of 19 organisations working to transform Africa into a continent where lesbian and bisexual women and gender non-conforming people enjoy the full range of human rights.
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The Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) congratulates the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (The African Commission) for their decision to grant CAL Observer Status at the Commission on 25 April 2015. The decision follows the submission of a new application by the Coalition of African Lesbians in August 2014.
The re-submission of the application follows a drawn-out process spanning seven years from the initial application in 2008 and the rejection in October 2010. At the time, the African Commission cited in their letter of decline; “The ACHPR decided, after a vote, not to grant Observer Status to the Coalition for African Lesbians (CAL), South Africa, whose application had been pending before it. The reason being that, the activities of the said Organisation do not promote and protect any of the rights enshrined in the African Charter.” A major Africa wide (1) campaign calling for the African Commission to reconsider the decision followed from the October 2010 session of the African Commission to the present.
The granting of observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians means that the Coalition can now engage at the Commission as a recognised NGO and speak on our own behalf and in our own name. Further, it contributes to the recognition of the rights of women human rights defenders to defend human rights and to the recognition of sexuality and gender. For CAL, this move also signals the critical role of asserting our entitlements, rights and claims and of sustaining resistance to anything and anyone who refuses to recognise our humanity, sexuality and gender. It also lays to rest the argument that organisations like CAL can work to protect but never to promote human rights. This argument has been a contentious issue for the Commission. It opens door for all other organisations working on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to request observer status before the African Commission.
Overall, the decision leads to the strengthening of CAL and our partners engaging at this key African human rights body that is primarily tasked with the protection and promotion of human rights for all. The Observer status allows CAL and its partners to build on the landmark Resolution 275 (2) and the progressive Report on Violence Based on Real or Perceived Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Africa (3).
While spaces to engage in issues related to social justice and human rights continue to shrink on the continent and globally, the granting of observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians is a milestone in the African human rights system and indicates commitment from the Commission to the principles of the African Charter on Human Rights, in particular article 2 of which states:
Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status.
This decision is also in keeping with the Commission’s evolving jurisprudence on Freedom of association that is enshrined in article 10 (1) of the African Charter:
Every individual shall have the right to free association provided that he abides by the law.
CAL commend the efforts of all those in civil society who have worked alongside us and the African Commission itself to bring to fruition this decision. Our rights to autonomy over our bodies and lives, to defend human rights, particularly women’s rights and rights related to sexuality and gender and our rights to organise and express ourselves in private and public spaces is increasingly being affirmed in multiple policies, legal standards and in various institutions.
(2) 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 http://www.achpr.org/sessions/55th/resolutions/275/