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March 28, 2014

Ethiopian Parliament to Vote to Make Homosexuality an Unpardonable Offense

Next week the Ethiopian Parliament is scheduled to vote on a proposition that would include homosexuality as an unpardonable offense, grouping it together with human trafficking, smuggling, and terrorism, amongst others. If passed, it would signal a yet further entrenchment of homophobia in a country where consensual sexual acts between members of the same sex can be punished with up to fifteen years of incarceration.

Once per year, the President of Ethiopia, Mulatu Teshome, issues mass pardons to a large swath of the prison population. Prisoners who commit what are considered especially heinous crimes are not eligible for amnesty. Unfortunately, it appears convicted homosexuals will soon be among that group.

Recently, Ethiopia’s Minister of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs, Zenabu Tedesse, issued a condemnation of Ugandan President Museveni when he signed the notorious Anti-homosexuality Bill into law. Via Twitter, she wrote, “There is no place for hate, discrimination in my beloved Africa. It's not Governments' business to make dress code or anti-gay laws.” As the first Ethiopian official to publicly condemn homophobia, it was a bold moment; unfortunately it was short-lived. Hours after the post, representatives of the Minister reported that the statement was inauthentic and should be disregarded as the work of hackers. Many activists cried foul, but the Minister denied authorship shortly thereafter.

The recent passage of similarly discriminatory laws in Uganda and Nigeria has alarmed the LGBT community in Africa and beyond. In Ethiopia homosexuality has long been criminalized, but the recent surge in homophobia in the Sub-Saharan region creates concerns that other nations may soon pursue legislative routes to further infringe on the rights of LGBT Africans. If lawmakers pass this bill next week and add homosexual acts to the list of unpardonable offenses, it will be one step further towards proving those concerns well-founded.