In Uganda, there is a burning desire to send them to the gallows. Woe betide those who dare “marry” in Malawi. In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe and Premier Tsvangirai have surprisingly agreed to refuse to consider their rights in the new constitution, with the former describing them as “pigs” and “dogs”. In 38 of the 53 countries on the continent, homosexuals are treated like criminals.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in South African since 2006. But it is an exception. South Africa has become a whole new universe of tolerance, severed from a continent where homosexuality, often violently punished, is considered as an unnatural act, an abomination. According to AIDES, an NGO that fights against the spread of HIV/AIDS, of out of 53 African countries, 38 of them criminalize sexual relations between persons of the same sex. Penalties range from six months to 14 years imprisonment, depending on the country.
In Sudan, where the Islamic law (Sharia) in force calls for the execution of people who engage in same sex relations, no one has yet been killed by the law for homosexual act. But Frederic Moreau, General Secretary of another NGO, Ensemble Contre La Peine de Mort (Together Against Death Penalty), begs to differ: “In Sudan, even if there is no execution, it is extremely dangerous for the sharia to be involved (in this issue), because countries that apply those laws, whereby homosexuals are executed, can one day be cited as a pretext to condemn and execute.”
The stigmatization of homosexuals in Africa does not only hold legal consequences. It also poses a serious threat to public health due to the generally accepted fact among HIV/AIDS organizations that it prevents the development of appropriate programs for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. These anti-gay laws exist despite reports from studies showing higher prevalence levels of the disease among men who have sex with men compared to the overall male population. A study by researchers at the University of Oxford on the risk of infection by the AIDS virus among the male population in Sub-Saharan Africa between 1984 and 2004 suggested that the “stigma” homosexuals are subject to cut access to prevention programs.
According to Sidaction, a French NGO, a gay man in Egypt is 108 times more likely to be infected than a heterosexual man. In Senegal, the HIV prevalence rate among homosexuals is more than 21%, against less than 1% for the general population. The conviction of nine men involved in the fight against the spread of HIV in Dakar, January 6, 2009, to eight years in prison for ‘indecent acts against nature” and the “creation of a criminal organization”, was revelatory of how the repression of gays was damaging to the fight against AIDS.
Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Rights Division believes that these accusations have a deterrent effect on AIDS programs. According to him, “Outreach workers and people seeking HIV prevention or treatment should not have to worry about police persecution.” He also pleaded with Senegal to “repeal its sodomy law”. Three months after their conviction, the nine Senegalese men were released due to irregularities in the judicial process.
Fourteen years in prison for gay marriage
In Malawi, a small country in the southern African region, a “married” homosexual couple was not as lucky. Arrested late December 2009 for holding a symbolic marriage ceremony, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, and Steven Monjeza, 26, could face up to 14 years in prison if convicted of gross indecency. The Government of Malawi, which depends on international donors for at least 40% of its budget, has announced that it will not bow to international pressure to free the two. The couple is awaiting a decision on their fate in prison.
Gays to the gallows?
Uganda could be considered as the most homophobic country in Africa. In October 2009, the country’s parliament proposed an anti-Homosexuality bill 2009 that sought to impose the death penalty on gay men who are HIV-positive for “aggravated homosexuality. The proposed law not just condemned HIV positive gay men and “repeat offenders” to death, but it also demanded a three year jail sentence for anyone who knows a gay man but refuses to report them to the authorities. In addition to that, anyone who defends gay rights in public could be sentenced to seven years in prison. The laws were proposed in a country where homosexuality is already a crime punishable by a life term.
Two months later, the government decided to rethink its harsh position following a strong international pressure. Ugandan Minister of Ethics and Integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, later ( December 10, 2009) announced that his country will abandon the death penalty and life imprisonment for gays in a modified version of the proposed law.
Unprecedented union against homosexuals in Zimbabwe
The octogenarian Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, never see eye to eye on issues related to human rights. However, the two men spoke with one voice as they rejected an initiative that seeks to introduce gay rights as part of human rights in the Southern African country’s new constitution, which is currently being written. Tsvangirai said women constituted 52 percent of the population and wondered why gay rights should be a priority. As for Mugabe, his reaction was: “Those who engage in homosexual behavior are just crazy. It’s just madness. Insanity. We can’t do it or the dead will turn in their graves”.
In Burundi, human rights has taken a step forward, especially for gays. Senators of the small East African country rejected, in February 2009, a bill, voted a few months earlier by the National Assembly, to criminalize homosexual relations. Prior to the Senate decision, Human Rights Watch had appealed to both the full Senate and President Pierre Nkurunziza not to ratify the damning bill.
In the northern part of Africa, where Islam is the predominant religion, homosexuals are not better off, even if they are not subject to judicial persecution as in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, homosexuals may be sentenced to up to three years in prison. In Libya, they could face up to five years in prison.