Friends of Rainka defend inclusion, preservation of LGBTs rights in Zambian constitution

 LUSAKA – December 30, 2011: The decision made by the group calling itself “The Rainbow Coalition” to march in protest against perceived attempts by special interest groups to influence the constitutional making process to include rights and emphasise the separation of the church from the state has saddened Friends of RAINKA or Zambian.

In a statement issued through the Zambian Watchdog, the Rainbow Coalition also demands that the Patriotic Front (PF) government should categorically state their intention to preserve the Christian nation clause in the 2012 constitution and its stand on homosexuality amidst mounting international pressure for countries like Zambia to uphold human rights.

Rainbow Coalition’s demands are contrary to Article 23 of the Zambian constitution which states that“(1) Subject to clauses (4), (5) and (7), no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect. (2) Subject to clauses (6), (7) and (8), no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any written law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority.
(3) In this Article the expression “discriminatory” mean, affording different treatment to different persons attributable, wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, tribe, sex, place of origin, marital status, political opinions colour or creed whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject or are accorded privileges or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description”.
Zambia like many African countries has affirmed its respect of the right to equality and dignity of all peoples through the ratification of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Article 2 of which states that, “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” It also guarantees the “the unquestionable and inalienable right to self-determination”, which includes the freedom to pursue one’s social development according to whatever policy he or she has chosen.

The aim of this principle is to ensure equality of treatment for individuals irrespective of nationality, sex, racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.”

These articles make no exception for cases where the policy or opinion is linked to expression of sexual orientation and gender identity, and even if they did, the question remains on why these have been singled out as particularly deserving of exclusion from human rights norms, as compared to acts that inflict damage on society.

Given the realities of discrimination and oppression with which Zambia has historically grappled, it is an unfortunate irony that intolerance towards sexual minorities – whose sexual orientation and gender identity inflicts no harm upon society – has now become a hallmark of our current social politics and that any organisations or individuals that require their two minutes of fame only have to use the homosexual and transgender issue to propagate their political or social ambitions. It has been a continuous norm among people to castigate homosexuals based on the fact that their existence is deliberate.

It is unfortunate that continued arbitrary hatred and violation of rights continue to be heaped upon the LGBTI community in a country that claims to embrace fundamental human rights principles, to the point of ratifying them at regional and International policy and legislation most notably the African Charter that calls on the individual to act in the spirit of “tolerance, dialogue and consultation”, none of which are compatible with transphobia and homophobia.

Although it is often argued in certain sectors of our society that “homosexuality is un-African and un-Christian” while cultures and religious affiliation may vary across different  cultures and communities, a common element of Zambian cultural life centres on belonging to a community of people and in our inherent ability to embrace and uphold diversity

Therefore, despite organisations like the Rainbow Coalition’s continued desire to use culture and “Christianity” as justification for discriminating against LGBTI persons, the paradox is that, while sexual orientation and gender identity are factors  of one’s nature regardless of citizenship, homophobia and transphobia are in themselves the “un-African and un-Christian” crimes in that, discrimination – and particularly, the violent discrimination that frequently accompanies homophobia and transphobia – are in absolute opposition to the Zambian and Christian philosophies.

To discriminate against LGBTI persons is therefore harmful to our culture and facilitates a breakdown of our own social fabric.

The issue of homosexuality and trans-sexuality are some of the many controversial matters that arise in relation to Christianity. There might never be consensus on such matters, which often hinge on several verses in the Bible that may seem fundamental to some but outdated to others.

In navigating the particularly bitter biblical debate that has been triggered by homosexuality and trans-sexuality, it would be instructive for groups like the Rainbow Coalition to look to the 22nd Chapter of Matthew in which Jesus is asked what the most important commandment is, and simply responds: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thou shalt/ love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the laws.”

This instruction is especially worth remembering when, as with homophobia and transphobia, the issue at which people are judged is simply based on a feature of their nature that is not chosen, changeable nor harmful to others – while as a nation we continue to be distracted from an abundance of other actions, such as gender violence, poverty, illiteracy, disease and corruption, that are far more deserving of our attention yet pass by with frequent impunity.

On 17th June 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council expressed grave concern at the violence and discrimination experienced by persons around the world because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and called for a global study to document the suffering that they face. The council further reiterated that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that everyone is equal and entitled to the same rights and freedoms, regardless of their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Exactly a month before this landmark resolution, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stressed that homophobia and transphobia were no different to sexism, racism or xenophobia. “But whereas these last forms of prejudice are universally condemned by governments, homophobia and transphobia are too often overlooked,” she said.

Although Zambia abstained from voting on this key resolution – this in its self does not, exclude her from upholding its principles.

As Zambia goes through yet another, constitution making process, it would be prudent to call to mind that a constitution is the fundamental, underlying framework of governance for  the nation and as such should not be subject to individual whims or personal prejudices.

We  the Friends of RAINKA applaud the Patriotic Front (PF) government for initiating this critical process and appeal to the learned committee tasked with this important exercise to take the lead in enacting a constitution that will provide for the full enjoyment of rights for all Zambians.

In the words of Ayn Rand, ’Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).

– Quote from “Homophobia Equals 

Friends of Rainka Zambia

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