Progress and setbacks in LGBT rights in Africa: an overview of the last year

June marks the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots over the treatment of LGBT people by New York City police, which was commemorated a year later with a protest march. In countries where it is possible, pride marches and parades are now ubiquitous, including in South Africa, which celebrated its first in 1990.

Pride month is a time to reflect on progress, but also current challenges in advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.

Many countries in Africa have a bad reputation when it comes to LGBT rights. Anthropologist Zethu Matebeni has parodied this uniformly grim view in an article titled How not to write about queer South Africa. But the same volume it also highlights the ways in which sexual and gender minorities are marginalized by “African political, religious and traditional leaders”.

When it comes to the rights of sexual and gender minorities in Africa, the past year has been a mixed bag.

In the first half of 2021, human rights groups reported cases of violence against LGBT people in Senegal, while the Kenyan police were pressured to properly investigate the events. brutal murder of a non-binary lesbian in Karatina, north of Nairobi.

South Africa, despite strong legal protections, continues to fight violence directed against LGBT people. In 2021, at least 24 people were killed in bias-motivated attacks. The Ministry of Justice is reviewing its policy and approach to combating systemic gender-based violence in the country.

Of the 69 countries that criminalize same-sex relationships, 33 are in Africa. In most cases, these laws are remnants of colonial rule, and the vague wording of these prohibitions, such as “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, resonate with the decorum of that time. Although examples are few, there has been some progress over the past year in protecting LGBT rights in Africa.

In November, the Botswana Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. The court determined that the provisions of the Penal Code that prohibited the “carnal knowledge of any person against the natural order” were unconstitutional, since they violated the right to privacy, the right to liberty, the security of the person and equal treatment. the law, and the right to freedom from discrimination. Botswana’s high court judges had said in 2019 that these archaic laws they belong “in the museum or in the archives”.

the new from angola Penal Code, revised from 1886, came into effect in January 2021 and no longer criminalizes same-sex conduct. The law has a non-discrimination provision that includes ‘sexual orientation’ as a protected ground.

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All former Portuguese colonies in Africa have now decriminalized same-sex conduct. In fact, Cape Verde is a member of the UN LGBTI Major Group, a network of states seeking to promote the rights of LGBTI people within the UN. In 2020, Gabon abandoned its brief experiment in criminalizing same-sex conduct when its parliament revoked a 2019 law criminalizing same-sex conduct for the first time.

But legal opposition and challenges to these archaic laws are mounting, though not always successfully.

In 2019, Kenya’s high court upheld that country’s sodomy laws, arguing that they were not discriminatory as the laws applied to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. The activists have appealed the decision, but no hearing date has been set.

In Mauritius, three cases challenge the constitutionality of a law that punishes consensual same-sex relations with up to five years in prison. At the same time, the Mauritius Equal Opportunities Act 2008 protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment, education and accommodation.

While many countries with colonial-era sodomy laws do not actively enforce them, or rarely do so, Cameroon actively enforces section 347 of its penal code, which punishes “same-sex sexual relations,” with up to five years in prison. prison. At least 27 people were arrested in Cameroon in the first quarter of 2021, and in a similar period this year, at least 11 victims of street violence were arrested for alleged consensual conduct between people of the same sex and gender nonconformity. In May 2021, two Transgender the women received prison sentences of five years each under the law that prohibits same-sex relationships.

In February 2021, the Tunisian security forces target activists work on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity in the protests, through arbitrary arrests, physical attacks and threats.

Egypt keep going arrest, detain and torture LGBT people, as noted in a joint statement issued in March 2021 on behalf of 32 countries at the UN Human Rights Council condemning egypt human rights record. Last July, five men accused of homosexual conduct were arrested in Kano state, Nigeria, by a religious police unit that enforces Sharia, or Islamic law.

In 2016, Ghana showed signs of tolerance when its ambassador to the UN, Sammie Pesky Eddico, stated at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that “the Ghanaian Constitution prohibits discrimination of any kind” and did not oppose the appointment of the independent expert on sexual orientation and identity of genre. In Accra, the capital of Ghana, some policemen were trained to engage sensitively with LGBT people, and the human rights commission instituted a complaint mechanism that allowed LGBT people to report abuse and discrimination without revealing their identities.

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But this informal truce was broken in 2021. In February, religious and political leaders forced the closure of an LGBT center in Accra. Then, in May, police arrested 21 people who were attending a human rights workshop in the city of Ho, Volta region. And in August, lawmakers proposed a bill (still under review) so extreme that simply saying you’re gay or lesbian could land you in mandatory conversion therapy or up to 10 years in prison.

Same-sex conduct is not illegal in RwandaBut authorities arbitrarily rounded up and detained people deemed socially undesirable, including more than a dozen gay and transgender people, sex workers, street children and others in the months leading up to a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government scheduled for June. of 2021.

The freedoms of expression and association have been put to the test during the last year. Despite decriminalizing same-sex relationships in 2015, Mozambique has yet to allow Lambda, a prominent LGBT rights group, to officially register as a non-governmental group. In neighboring Eswatini, the high court affirmed that LGBT people, like everyone else, had the right to freedom of association and expression, but nonetheless upheld the decision to deny Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities’ application for registration, a local LGBT rights group.

Freedom of expression was curtailed in Kenya when the Film Classification Board banned the documentary. I am Samuel, on the basis that the film promoted same-sex marriage. The film follows a classic theme: the relationship between parents and their son, as he navigates a budding romance with another man in a rural setting. This ban came on the heels of the 2020 ban by the same narrative film board. A frienda love story about two young women whose parents are political opponents. A friend the ban was briefly lifted and it was broadcast for a week in Kenya, to meet the requirement of being considered for an award at Cannes.

In recent years, as LGBT rights have advanced within the UN system, the African Group has been somewhat uniform in opposing these developments, including leading the charge against the appointment of an independent expert on sexual orientation and identity. of genre. But this uniformity has given way to a more nuanced and varied approach. When opposition to the appointment of the independent expert reached a fever pitch at the UN General Assembly in 2016, the South African representative, Ambassador Jerry Matjila delivered an impassioned speech defending the expert’s mandate and reflecting on the fight against apartheid: “ After years of fighting our people, black and white, straight and non-straight, came together to bury discrimination once and for all.”

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Cape Verde and Seychelles actively supported the mandate. In a sign that the uniform opposition was delayed, some African states abstained from voting at various points in the process, while others simply did not vote. vote at all. South Africa also recently joined the group of friends at the UN Human Rights Council that supports the renewal of the independent expert’s mandate.

However, within the African regional human rights system, the African Union used the pretext of objecting to the observer status granted to the Coalition of African Lesbians to limit the autonomy of the African Commission, reprimanding the body for acting against the values Africans recognizing the group of lesbians

Pride events had been organized in Uganda since 2012, but in 2016, Ugandan police raided an LGBTI pride event and assaulted Participantsand was cancelled in 2017, under threat of arrest. And when activists tried to revive the tradition in 2019, they were again met with threats of arrest and violence and at that point decided it would not be safe to celebrate. future events. Despite being denied registration, Rock of Hope, the LGBT group in Eswatini, has organized Pride events since 2018 in the face of considerable opposition. In 2021, Rwandan activists organized sports and social events to commemorate the pride for the first time. Others have turned to virtual events, such as the three-day event. pride africaorganized by a Nigerian storyteller, Kehinde Bademosi.

Leaders in Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria Y Tanzania Verbal attacks against LGBT people have begun in recent years. One way to look at this is to recognize a pattern of stoking moral panic to divert attention from pressing social and economic issues and defecting from political opposition. It is also true that it is a measure of the success of activists on the continent, who have increased visibility and awareness of LGBT issues. In this sense, the scale of the opposition is also a testament to the resilience and tenacity of a growing social movement across Africa.