Laws criminalizing homosexuality are incompatible with international human rights standards and fuel homophobia

Published: March 10, 2011

Laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults remain on the statute books in more than 70 countries. They are an affront to principles of equality and non-discrimination and fuel hatred and violence—in effect giving homophobia a State-sanctioned seal of approval. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon have both called for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality and for further measures to counter discrimination and prejudice directed at those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). In recent months, a series of incidents and developments have underscored the extent and the urgency of the challenge.

In February 2011, Malawi enacted a law criminalizing homosexuality among women. Homosexuality is already illegal for men in that county. If convicted, a defendant could receive up to five years’ imprisonment. Responding to the Malawian decision, the High Commissioner said “I have repeatedly argued that laws criminalizing homosexuality are inherently discriminatory and incompatible with existing international human right standards, including those enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Malawi has acceded, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Malawi has ratified.”

In Uganda, on 26 January 2011, leading gay human rights activist David Kato was beaten to death in his home outside Kampala. In the months leading up to his murder, he had been a target of a hate-campaign mounted by a local newspaper, The Rolling Stone, which printed his name, photograph and address alongside those of dozens of others the paper claimed were gay or lesbian, and called for them to be hanged.

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