Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lauded the “courageous” decision announced today by the leader of Malawi to pardon a gay couple recently sentenced to 14 years in prison, voicing hope that the African nation will update its laws to reflect international standards.
We cannot “stay quiet when people are denied fundament rights – whatever their race or faith or age or gender or sexual orientation,” Mr. Ban said in an address to Malawi's Parliament.
“It is unfortunate that laws that criminalize people on the basis of their sexual orientation exist in some countries. They should be reformed,” he underlined.
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were convicted earlier this month of “indecent practices between males” and “unnatural offences,” sparking the alarm of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who called the sentencing “blatantly discriminatory.”
Welcoming President Bingu wa Mutharika's announcement today, the Secretary-General voiced confidence that Malawian Parliament “will take appropriate steps to update laws discriminating based on sexual orientation in line with international standards.”
For his part, Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) welcomed Mr. Mutharika's announcement, calling it a “victory for the voiceless and for people on the margins of society.”
Mr. Ban's address in Malawi today also laid out his four key elements for Africa's success in promoting development and in reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline.
Firstly, the developed world's pledges must be implemented, he said. “There are far too many promises, too often not fully delivered.”
Another crucial ingredient, the Secretary-General said, is the unleashing of African's potential – both its human and material wealth.
“Africa's people need neither pity nor charity,” he said. “They need only the tools to create jobs and generate incomes.”
A level playing field for the continent in global trade, coupled with targeted development assistance, will “go a long way towards bringing a new dawn to the continent,” Mr. Ban underlined.
Thirdly, he appealed for a new approach to development, where all of the MDGs are addressed in a coordinated manner instead of selecting targets to reach.
“We should focus on empowering countries to scale up investments in agriculture, education, health and infrastructure,” the Secretary-General said, calling for a “true partnership” between Africa and donors.
He noted that at the high-level gathering on MDGs that he is convening in September, he will ask governments to formulate a results-oriented action plan with concrete steps and timelines.
Lastly, development initiatives can only be successful if there is good governance, Mr. Ban said.
“We cannot allow the will of the people to be thwarted by electoral fraud. We cannot accept unconstitutional changes of government. We cannot countenance manipulations of the law to preserve the privileges of those in power.”
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General is scheduled to visit Mwandama, a so-called Millennium Village, where UN agencies work with governments, aid organizations and civil society groups to try to lift residents out of extreme poverty and attain the MDGs.
He will then travel to Uganda's capital, Kampala, to convene the first review conference of the International Criminal Court (ICC), set up as a permanent tribunal to try people accused of the worst war crimes.
This is the first of Mr. Ban's three visits to Africa in the coming months. His next trip will take him to South Africa, where his visit will coincide with the opening of the World Cup soccer championships, which has called “a fabulous tribute to Africa's prowess and potential.”
Later he will travel to Burundi, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin and Sierra Leone for talks with national leaders, UN staff and civil society groups, much of it focused on the MDGs.
The Secretary-General's third visit to Africa will be to Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where a UN peacekeeping mission – known as MONUC – has been in operation for 11 years.
This week, the Security Council agreed to transform the operation into a stabilization mission in the coming weeks, authorizing the withdrawal of up to 2,000 UN military personnel by 30 June this year from areas where security has improved enough to allow their removal.
As of 1 July, the mission will be known as the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC, or MONUSCO.