New strategy needed to combat anti-gay laws

Published: January 21, 2014

In recent months the list of countries where the gay community is criminalized has grown. Just weeks ago Uganda was added, now Nigeria. In Asia, India has also taken a step backwards in the history of human rights for sexually diverse people.

 
On 13 January 2014, the Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed a law criminalizing same-sex unions, as well as clubs, establishments and organizations where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people meet.
 
With this law coming into force, people in a same-sex union, if they do not disavow their union, could be sentenced to a maximum of 14 years in prison. The law also explicitly refuses to recognise same-sex marriage or union documents or certificates issued by other countries. Those in Nigeria who organize a society, organization or open a social meeting place (clubs, bars or discos), face a maximum of ten years in prison under the new law.
 
Anti-gay laws in Africa
 
In Cameroon on 10 January, Roger Mbede, who had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for sending loving text messages to another man, died at his home after leaving prison due to the advanced deterioration in his health. The risk of such human rights abuses, as suffered by Mbede, is increasing in a number of African countries.
 
On 20 December 2013, the Ugandan parliament passed a draconian “anti-homosexuality” law which was sent to President Yoweri Museveni, which so far he has not signed into law. In recent weeks the country and its politicians have come under a great deal of international pressure not to pass the law, both from international development agencies and the private sector. The British multi-millionaire Richard Branson called for an international boycott against Uganda if the law is passed, abstaining from travelling to or engaging in trade with the country.
 
But many political leaders and members of the supreme court of Uganda have called on each other not to be bullied by western powers. Paradoxically, international pressure could lead politicians and officials to close ranks to defend this bill.
 
Turning back the clock in Asia and Eastern Europe
 
At the end of last year, the Supreme Court of India revoked a 2009 decision that had annulled the infamous section 377 that criminalized homosexual activity. This law dates from 1861 when India belonged to the British Empire, and there are many countries in Africa and the Caribbean that were similarly influenced. It is worth remembering that homosexuality was penalized in the United Kingdom until 1967 and not totally depenalized until 1982, yet this harsh heritage has remained in the former colonies.
 
The NAZ Foundation had managed to bring an end to penalization in 2009 with a Supreme Court decision, but this decision has been systematically challenged by Christian, Hindu and Muslim groups. And just over a month ago the latter won the fight.
 
In Russia the LGTBI community has not only been the victim of violence with impunity from extremist groups and from the state itself, but also pressure from Russian Orthodox leaders has led to penalization initiatives being analysed.
 
In Latin America, there are high degrees of criminalization in the English-speaking Caribbean, as well as fairly recent acts of violence and hatred in Haiti.
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