Archbishop Desmond Tutu, famous for his role in ending apartheid, has called on South Africa to reject homophobic discrimination as part of a new LGBT global public education campaign by the United Nations Human Rights Office.

The campaign will focus on the need for both legal reforms and public education to counter homophobia and transphobia.

At a press conference held in Cape Town on Friday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was joined by Archbishop Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron of the South African Constitutional Court to announce the year-long project.

“Can you imagine me having said it’s unjust to penalise something they cannot do anything about, their race or gender, and then to keep quiet when people are hounded, people are killed, because of their sexual orientation?” Archbishop Tutu, a Nobel Prize winner pondered.

“I think it’s as utterly unjust as racism ever was.”

Archbishop Tutu said LGBT people were often described as being a “particular breed”.

“They are not a peculiar breed. That is precisely what we are saying, that they are human beings. I don’t know why we are so surprised. They have gifts, they can become judges. They can become all sorts of wonderful things.”

He added: “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I’d say sorry. I mean, I’d much rather go to that other place.

“We have to build a society that is accepting and it is not a free society until every single person knows they are acknowledged and accepted for who they are.”

South Africa is the only African country that recognises gay rights and allows same-sex marriage. However, homophobic violence remains a key problem throughout the nation.

In South Africa, at least seven people, five of them lesbians, were murdered between June and November 2012.

The most recent murder of a 26-year-old lesbian occurred in Thokoza, east of Johannesburg, earlier this month.

The UN’s Free & Equal campaign aims to raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, and encourage greater respect for the rights of LGBT people.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights – no exceptions, no-one left behind,” said Navi Pillay. “Yet it’s still a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and discrimination on a daily basis.”