Zuma did not condemn the move when he responded to a parliamentary question on whether he intended to make clear South Africa’s policy position regarding Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law on Tuesday.
“South Africa respects the sovereign rights of other countries to adopt their own legislation. In this regard, through diplomatic channels South Africa engages with Uganda on areas of mutual concern bearing in mind Uganda’s sovereignty,” Zuma said through a written response to the National Assembly.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a controversial bill allowing for repeat homosexual offenders to be jailed, in February. The same legislation also criminalised the promotion of homosexuality and requires that people deplore gays and lesbians.
The SAHRC said it believes the government should make its rejection of Uganda’s draconian law clear and visible.
SAHRC spokesperson Isaac Mangena called on the government to, “join those who respect the rights and freedoms of every person to call for the repeal of this and all similar legislation and to follow good human rights practices in line with its commitments under international and regional laws.”
The Commission was concerned that the laws could potentially put the safety of citizens, not only Ugandans but even South Africans who work or travel to Uganda at risk. It also wanted to remind the government that it was South Africa who in 2011 initiated a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in support of gay rights.
“Our government is rightfully expected, and needs to speak out against all laws that seek to discriminate against and violate the rights of vulnerable and marginalised groups,” said Mangena.
The move has also been criticised by opposition parties. The Democratic Alliance said the president’s failure to condemn Uganda’s anti-gay laws is an insult to the Constitution and former president Nelson Mandela’s views on human rights which inspired foreign policy.