Johannesburg - A programme against gender-based violence, including violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, was launched by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe on Tuesday.
The equality clause in South Africa's Constitution was one of the most progressive constitutional provisions in the world, Radebe said in a speech prepared for delivery.
“Notwithstanding the comprehensive constitutional and legal framework and protection for LGBTI persons, we have sadly witnessed acts of discrimination and violent attacks being perpetrated against LGBTI persons.”
South Africa's justice system would deal harshly with those found guilty of such discriminatory behaviour, he said.
A national task team had developed a national intervention strategy to deal with gender and sexual orientation- based violence, particularly in the criminal justice system, over the past year.
The terms of reference for the task team and a rapid response task team were developed by representatives of a number of government departments, Chapter Nine institutions and civil society organisations.
The rapid response team comprised the justice and constitutional development department, National Prosecuting Authority, the police, and representatives of civil society organisations.
“The purpose of the rapid response team is to urgently attend to the pending and reported cases in the criminal justice system where hate crimes have been committed against LGBTI persons,” Radebe said.
The team's terms of reference included a working definition of hate crime, as South Africa did not yet have specifically designated legislation on hate crimes.
“As a department we have finalised a policy framework with regards the need for a specific legal framework for hate crimes.”
The matter would be opened for public debate, but it remained to be decided who would conduct this debate.
“For instance we will have to make a decision on whether it should be the department itself, alternatively bodies such as the (SA) Human Rights Commission or the SA Law Reform Commission.”
The debate was likely to be contentious as such legislation would need to balance freedom of speech with banning hate speech.
“Notwithstanding the absence of specifically designated legislation on hate crimes, South Africa's legal framework is comprehensive enough to ensure that current incidences of crimes involving a bias motive are dealt with severely by the law enforcement agencies,” Radebe said