As African civil society organisations whose members live and work to improve the lives of all Africans, we condemn in the strongest terms, the disturbing increase in sexuality and gender-related rights violations and abuses, especially those aimed at women and gender non-conforming people, and people in same sex relations including lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identifying African people.
Specifically, we condemn the signing of the Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act and the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act, both of which were passed into law this year by Presidents Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, respectively. We also strongly condemn the Anti-Pornography Law, which was passed in Uganda last year.
In defense of African people whom these laws target, we seek recourse through the African Union (AU) and its organs.
We also call on the AU Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to make a public statement condemning both the Nigerian and Ugandan laws, and providing African citizens with a roadmap for how the AU Commission plans to address laws that violate gender and sexuality-related rights amongst member states.
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act criminalizes homosexuality—defining it as “same sex or gender sexual acts”—with punishment ranging from seven years to life imprisonment. Those who are found guilty of “aiding and abetting homosexuality” also face up to seven years in prison. Uganda’s Anti-Pornography Act places limitations on ‘appropriate’ dress code for women, specifically banning miniskirts and any other clothing deemed to “cause sexual excitement”.
The Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act goes further than its stated purpose by criminalizing the registration of ‘gay clubs, societies and organizations and banning the public show of a same sex ‘amorous’ relationship either directly or indirectly, carrying a ten year prison sentence for such acts.
These laws have already forced people from their schools, work and homes out of fear and due to their safety being threatened. The levels of violence, threats, and abusive and hate speech have escalated dramatically as homophobic laws have been put in place. We note with alarm that in both Uganda and Nigeria, the passage of these laws have been accompanied by acts of murder, rape, assault, arbitrary arrest and detention and other forms of persecution of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity. The climate of fear and hate was further escalated in Uganda by the publication of a list of “200 Top Homosexuals” in Red Pepper Newspaper, with the headline “Exposed”, immediately following President Museveni’s signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. This constitutes a gross violation of media ethics and of human rights, both of which, we argue, are punishable under Ugandan law.
States have an obligation to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of gender or sexuality. States have a responsibility to protect the rights of all who live in their borders. States should not be creating the conditions in which violence by non-state actors are justified or encouraged. Nor should the state set itself up as a threat to its own citizens and block them from living with basic levels of freedom as both Uganda and Nigeria have done.
We reject arguments made by the heads of state of both Uganda and Nigeria, that consensual same-sex relations are “unAfrican”, and we condemn in the strongest terms the comments of political, religious and cultural leaders who have used similar rhetoric to incite hatred against persons perceived to be homosexual.
We celebrate and echo the strong voices of African leaders who have rejected these claims and who continue to condemn discrimination, violence and human rights violations based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. We align ourselves with all Africans who have spoken out in the face of these unjust laws and who have continued to call for respect for diversity and for all Africans to embrace the African idea of Ubuntu –our shared humanity.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated in respect of the Nigerian law, “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.” Former President of Mozambique, Joaqium Chissano, in an open letter to African leaders said, “I encourage leaders to take a strong stand for fundamental human rights, and advance the trajectory for basic freedoms…
This simply means granting every one the freedom and the means to make informed decisions about very basic aspects of one’s life – one’s sexuality, health, and if, when and with whom to have relationships, marry or have children – without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence.”
Given its mandate as the human rights organ of the African Union, we call upon the African Union Commission, as well as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to condemn all homophobic and anti-gay laws that have either been passed, or are being proposed, throughout Africa, and further respond urgently to the increasingly violent acts that precede and follow these laws.
While there are close to 40 African countries that criminalise consensual sexual conducts between persons of the same sex, the new laws enacted by Nigeria and Uganda goes further by criminalizing peoples’ sexual orientation and identities regardless of sexual conduct. They also include such egregious provisions.
The Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage [Prohibition] Act [A1] includes:
• a provision for a 14-year prison term for anyone who enters into a same sex union,
• a ten-year prison term for anyone who ‘administers, witnesses, abets or aids’ a same sex marriage or civil union ceremony.
• The law states that ‘a person or group of persons who … supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.’
The Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act: [A2]
• introduces a series of crimes listed as “aggravated homosexuality” – including sex with a minor or while HIV positive;
• criminalises lesbianism for the first time;
• makes it a crime to help individuals engage in homosexual acts;
• makes homosexual acts punishable with life in prison.