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Ending impunity for homophobic killings

Zoliswa Nkonyana was pelted with bricks, stabbed and beaten to death just a few metres from her home in the township of Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, South Africa in February 2006.  According to the local “Mail & Guardian Online”, her brutal murder did not become ‘news’, until two weeks later and even then it was by chance. A local activist mentioned her murder to a reporter who had called about another matter and the story was then published.

Glen de Swardt of the Triangle Project, a group that campaigns for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, was quoted as saying: “We [the gay community] have come to accept such abuse as a way of life, and most gay people think the only way to deal with it is to keep quiet.”

Six years later the four men who were found guilty of the murder have each been sentenced to 18 years in jail.  The presiding magistrate in the case took into account the nature of the crime itself – hate and intolerance based on sexual orientation as an aggravating factor in arriving at the sentence. The magistrate was also explicit about the motive for the murder, concluding that Nkonyana was killed because she was living openly as a lesbian.

Welcoming the outcome of the trial, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay said, “Not only were the perpetrators of this murder found guilty and given an appropriate sentence, the court made clear the motive was hatred and homophobia. Nineteen-year old Zoliswa Nkonyana was murdered in 2006 because she was living openly as a lesbian.”

“This is a very significant case because it signals an end to impunity for those who would inflict violence and hatred on others based on perceptions of sexual orientation and gender,” Pillay said.

The sentences have been widely applauded in South Africa and abroad by activists who for many years have campaigned for an end to impunity for people convicted of attacking or killing people on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation.

South Africa’s Constitution protects people on the basis of their sexual orientation. However, despite its non-discriminatory laws, violence against gays and lesbians continues.

Noting the protections offered in the Constitution, Pillay commented: “Legal protection, of itself, does not eradicate embedded discriminatory practices. I call on all States to step up training for law enforcement officials, put in place adequate systems for recording and reporting homophobic hate crimes, and increase efforts in the areas of education and raising awareness to eradicate deep-rooted prejudice and stereotypes.”

Outside the courtroom, Nkonyana’s stepfather Gcinumzi Mandindi spoke to reporters: “I think for anyone who listens and understands this should be a lesson.”

”She didn’t like women’s clothes.  She was the way she was. That’s how she grew up. She was born that way,” he said.

8 February 2012

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