On Eve of Obama Trip, New Report Finds Dangerously Rising Levels of Homophobia in Africa

A young man in Cameroon who has been frequently beaten in his neighborhood and evicted due to his sexual orientation. © Amnesty
Press Release
June 24, 2013

On Eve of Obama Trip, New Report Finds Dangerously Rising Levels of Homophobia in Africa

Rights Group Urges President to Raise Concerns about LGBTI Attacks and Threats on Visit

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia

(NEW YORK) – Attacks, threats, and harassment of gays and lesbians are becoming more visible across sub-Saharan Africa, indicating that homophobia is reaching dangerous levels, Amnesty International said today in a new report documenting violence and discrimination against LGBTI individuals on the continent.

Making Love a Crime: Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa shows that “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 Law and Policy director. “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.”

Senegal and Tanzania, two of the three countries that President Obama will visit, treat homosexuality as a crime. South Africa, the third country, has persistently high numbers of rapes and murders in the LGBTI community, Amnesty International has documented. Obama’s trip runs from this coming Wednesday, June 26 through July 3.

Amnesty International is calling on the president to raise concerns about homophobic discrimination and violence when he visits the continent.

“President Obama should use his trip as a platform to speak out against the terrible violence and discrimination that LGBTI people experience on the continent,” said Adotei Akwei, Amnesty International USA’s managing director for government relations and Africa specialist. “His silence would be seen as indifference to their suffering.”

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 criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct. Uganda, Liberia, and Nigeria all currently have bills pending before Parliament seeking to increase existing penalties. Even countries with positive legal progress still harbor pervasive anti-LGBTI attitudes with numerous hate crimes.

The report reviews the current state of legal provisions across the continent and how these laws adversely affect Africans in the LGBTI community. It also highlights specific cases from Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, and Cameroon.

Individuals interviewed by Amnesty International spoke of their daily struggle to survive discrimination and threats.

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 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 the police sometimes 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 Brown. “These poisonous laws must be repealed and the human rights of all Africans upheld.”

Political and religious opposition to LGBTI rights is becoming more visible – and vocal. In some African countries, political leaders target sexual orientation issues to distract attention from their overall human rights records, often marked by rampant discrimination and violence against women, corruption and lack of media freedoms.

Uganda’s much publicized Anti-Homosexuality Bill still hangs over the LGBTI community. It has been re-introduced to Parliament several times since 2009, frequently coinciding with periods of widespread unrest about rising fuel and food prices. The bill seeks to impose the death penalty for ‘aggravated’ homosexuality and would criminalize anyone in the country who does not report violations of the bill’s wide-ranging provisions.

National and religious leaders in Africa often frame “homosexual acts” as a western import, alien to African culture. However, most of the laws criminalizing same sex activity in Africa are a direct legacy of colonialism. In addition, the religious right in Western countries like the United States actively fund and promote homophobia in Africa.

In many instances, media reports also stir up and inflame hostility towards people not conforming to heterosexual norms, often putting individuals at risk. A photograph of LGBTI activist David Kato was printed on the front page of Rolling Stone magazine in Uganda in 2010 next to a headline reading “Hang them.” Just a month later, he was killed in his home.

In South Africa, Amnesty International has documented a persistently high number of rapes and murders against the LGBTI community even though same sex conduct is not criminalized and the country boasts one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, including promoting the rights of LGBTI individuals.

Between June and November 2012, at least seven people, five of them lesbians, were murdered in what appears to be targeted violence related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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.

Making Love a Crime