Rising levels of homophobia in sub-Saharan Africa are dangerous and must be tackled

Published: June 25, 2013

Homophobic attacks and harassment across sub-Saharan Africa are becoming more visible, indicating that homophobia is reaching dangerous levels, Amnesty International said today as it launched a comprehensive report documenting the discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) people on the continent.

Making Love a Crime: Criminalization of same-sex conduct in sub-Saharan Africa looks at how “homosexual acts” are being increasingly criminalized across Africa as a number of governments seek to impose draconian penalties or broaden the scope of existing laws, including by introducing the death penalty.

“These attacks – sometimes deadly – must be stopped. No one should be beaten or killed because of who they are attracted to or intimately involved with,” said Widney Brown, Amnesty International’s director of Law and Policy.

“In too many cases these attacks on individuals and groups are being fuelled by key politicians and religious leaders who should be using their position to fight discrimination and promote equality.”

Homosexuality, often characterized as “unnatural carnal acts” or “acts against the order of nature”, is currently a crime in 38 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the last five years South Sudan and Burundi have introduced new laws criminalising same-sex sexual conduct. Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria all currently have Bills seeking to increase existing penalties pending before Parliament.

The report reviews the current state of legal provisions across the continent and how these laws adversely affect LGBTI Africans. Individuals interviewed by Amnesty International spoke of their daily struggle to survive discrimination and threats. The report contains specific cases from Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Cameroon.

In Cameroon, people are regularly arrested after being denounced to the authorities as being gay or lesbian – based on their appearance or conjecture, rather than evidence. Some individuals accused of same sex conduct have been imprisoned for three years without trial or charge.

Former detainees from Cameroon told Amnesty International about being beaten while in custody and subjected to invasive procedures such as forced anal exams.

Even in countries where criminalization laws are not enforced, their existence provides opportunities for abuse, including blackmail and extortion, by police and members of the public.

In Kenya, individuals told Amnesty International that sometimes the police threaten to arrest them under provisions in the penal code related to same-sex relations in order to elicit a bribe. Extortionists also use the existence of these laws to demand money or goods in exchange for not revealing real or even made-up private details to the media, community or police.

“The very existence of laws criminalizing same-sex relations – whether they are enforced or not – sends a toxic message that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are criminals and have no rights,” said Widney Brown.

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