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April 28, 2014

LGBT Rights Update from Africa

Human Rights First monitors cases of homophobia throughout the world, whether they take the form of violent attacks, hateful speech, or discriminatory legislation. The latter legitimizes violence by codifying hate and creating an environment of impunity for crimes against the LGBT community. Recently, a wave of anti-gay laws have been introduced in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, leading to arrests and trials that affect LGBT Africans and their allies. Here are updates on some of the cases we’ve been monitoring in Uganda, Nigeria, and beyond.

UGANDA

Early this year, Kim Mukisa and Jackson Mukasa, two men from the southeast Ugandan town of Jinja, were arrested in a hotel room under suspicion of homosexual acts. Since their arrest they have remained in police custody, denied bail, and are awaiting a trial set to begin on May 7th. The men, charged with "having sexual knowledge of a person against the order of nature," face up to 14 years imprisonment if convicted. The trial will be the first since President Museveni signed into law the now-infamous Anti-Homosexuality Act in late February. Since the men’s arrest occurred before the bill was enacted, they are being charged under the previous homophobic law that dates back to the 1950’s.

NIGERIA

Two Nigerian men were acquitted of homosexual acts by an Islamic court in early April. The men would have faced death by stoning if convicted. Northern Nigeria’s court system is largely based off of Sharia law, which dictates that conviction for sodomy can only occur if four witnesses can be presented to testify that the act occurred. In this case none came forward. Both secular and Islamic law criminalize homosexual acts in Nigeria.

ZAMBIA

Philip Mubiana and James Mwape, who were first arrested in May of 2013, still remain incarcerated, awaiting continuation of their trial for committing offenses “against the order of nature.” The men have spent eleven months in detention awaiting a trial now in the midst of another protracted delay.

MALAWI

As we reported last month, the Malawi Law Society has joined with the United Nations’ AIDS Task Force to challenge the constitutionality of the country’s anti-homosexuality laws. Currently, conviction of “unnatural’ sexual relations” can be punished by up to 14 years of imprisonment. The challenge, which is being presented before the Malawi High Court, is rooted in Section 20 of the Malawian Constitution, which prohibits “discrimination of persons of any form.” If the court rules against the constitutionality of the laws, it would be a significant step towards stemming tide of homophobia in Sub-Saharan Africa.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Following the introduction of severe anti-homosexuality bills in Uganda and Nigeria, several officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are drumming up support to pass similar legislation. Member of the Parti Travailliste Congolais, Steve Mbikayi, has introduced a bill barring “unnatural acts” that would punish homosexual acts with a 3 to 5 year prison sentence.

ETHIOPIA

An anti-gay rally scheduled to take place in late April in Addis Ababa was cancelled by organizers days before it was set to take place. The rally likely would have called for increasing the already alarming 15-year jail sentence for those convicted of same-sex acts. Announced alongside the cancellation was the decision by government officials to drop legislation that would have included same-sex acts in a group of crimes that are non-pardonable. Both announcements offer glimmers of hope amid an ever-increasing climate of homophobia.