Joaquim Chissano, president of Mozambique from 1986 to 2005, has pleaded for African leaders to be respectful of the human rights of sexual minorities and move away from discriminating against them.
Chissano, the current co-chair of the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) made the comments in an open letter published by The Africa Report as African leaders finalize a document that will replace the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for Africa after 2015.
‘Since the 1990s, Africa has gained considerable strength in international negotiations by sticking together and forging consensus on important issues,’ Chissano wrote Tuesday.
‘I urge our leaders to draw from the lessons of the past, but also to heed current realities. And to look ahead to what the future is calling forth – because this new development agenda will affect the lives of millions of our people at a very critical time for Africa.
'I encourage leaders to take a strong stand for fundamental human rights, and advance the trajectory for basic freedoms.
‘This means pushing for three priorities that lie at the heart of sustainable development: the empowerment of women and gender equality; the rights and empowerment of adolescents and youth; and the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people.’
Chissano wrote that his role with the ICPD had crystallized the importance of embracing those issues.
‘We have found that they represent not only human rights imperatives, but smart, cost-effective investments to foster more equitable, healthy, productive, prosperous and inclusive societies, and a more sustainable world,’ Chissano wrote,
‘Sexual and reproductive health and rights, in particular, are a prerequisite for empowering women and the generations of young people on whom our future depends.
‘This simply means granting every one the freedom – and the means - to make informed decisions about very basic aspects of one's life – one's sexuality, health, and if, when and with whom to have relationships, marry or have children – without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence. This also implies convenient, affordable access to quality information and services and to comprehensive sexuality education.
‘We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.’
Chissano wrote that as an African he understood the cultural resistance to change on these issues but said the benefits of progress on these issues outweighed cultural concerns.
‘African leaders should be at the helm of this, and not hold back. Not at this critical moment,’ Chissano wrote, The international agenda that we will help forge is not just for us here and now, but for the next generations and for the world.’
‘As I think about these issues, I am reminded of the words of our recently departed leader, who gained so much wisdom over the course of his long walk to freedom. "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains," Nelson Mandela reminded us, "but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." Let us live up to his immortal words.’