(NEW YORK) – Amnesty International and nine other international human rights groups urged Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to veto a draconian new law that would formalize discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and have wide-ranging effects on civil liberties in the country.
On May 30, Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, which would impose a prison sentence of up to 14 years for anyone found guilty of engaging in same-sex relationships. The Senate had already passed a similar bill. If signed into law, the bill would also criminalize freedom of speech, association and assembly.
“The bill is a throwback to past decades under military rule when these civil rights were treated with contempt,” said Lucy Freeman, deputy director of the Africa Program at Amnesty International. “It undermines basic freedoms that Nigeria’s civil society has long fought to defend. The civil rights of Nigerians cannot simply be legislated away.”
“Same-sex marriages” or “civil unions” – which could lead to imprisonment of up to 14 years – are so broadly defined in the bill that they include virtually any form of same-sex cohabitation. In addition, the bill seeks to impose prison sentences on a range of people who associate with or assist LGBTI people.
“The loosely defined terms of the law mean that a large number of people will be under suspicion of cohabiting as same-sex couples or supporting same-sex relationships,” said Adebisi Alimi, a Nigerian gay and civil rights activist.
The proposed law would also interfere with public health outreach efforts in Nigeria. The country has the world’s third-largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS. The proposed law would hinder efforts to target vulnerable groups by criminalizing those who conduct outreach to LGBTI groups. It would drive some groups affected by the epidemic further underground for fear of imprisonment.
“The Nigerian government knows that its criminal laws already hinder access to services, and has acknowledged the need to target services to at-risk populations,” said Graeme Reid, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.
“But if the bill passes, just seeking to provide information to LGBTI people could land service providers in jail – something that is likely to have a chilling effect on their work.”
Same-sex marriages or civil unions are not currently recognized in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, and there is no move to legalize them. Shari’a penal codes, introduced in northern Nigeria since 1999, criminalize “sodomy” with caning, imprisonment, or death by stoning.
The groups issuing the appeal to President Jonathan are:
- Amnesty International
- Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development (CEHRD)
- Collaborative Media and Advocacy Platform (CMAP)
- Human Rights Watch
- Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)
- Projekt Hope/Nigeria HIV INFO
- Queer Alliance Nigeria
- Stakeholders Democracy Network (SDN)
- The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIER)
- Women Advocates' Research and Documentation Center (WARDC)
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.