BUJUMBURA, Burundi — International LGBT advocacy organizations are expressing outrage and concern over Burundi’s decision to criminalize homosexuality.

The National Assembly of the small African country, bordered by Rwanda to the north and Tanzania to the South, passed a law on Nov. 21 making same-sex acts punishable by between three months to two years in prison. The Assembly also made provisions for fines and other penalties.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and the Association pour le Respect et les Droits des Homosexuels (ARDO) both issued statements the following day.

In letters to the membership of Burundi’s Senate, the groups asked officials to vote against the bill, which if passed, will likely be signed by Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza. The groups also wrote to Nkurunziza and asked him to veto the legislation, but both the Senate and presidential approvals are seen as mere formalities, according to the Agence France-Presse.

“Imprisoning people simply because of who they love offends every principle of human rights practice, which is to ensure dignity and respect for all people,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director. “This is less about sexuality and more about the visibility of a growing community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Africa refusing to be treated as dirt. These laws are meant to silence and terrorize our community and must be stopped.”

Having recently ended intense, ethnically-based conflict, Burundi has seen reconstruction in the country. Growth in the nation’s society has come with increased hostility to homosexuality in surrounding regions of the African continent.

Although the United Nations has condemned laws that criminalize homosexuality and called such laws violations of the rights of privacy and equality, many African member nations continue to pass new laws or strengthen existing ones. Two-thirds of African nations place criminal penalties on those convicted of engaging in consensual same-sex behavior. Several countries have threatened to strengthen anti-gay laws. In Zimbabwe, new criminal codes define “sodomy” as “any act that involves physical contact that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act.”

Further, the international civil rights groups question the manner in which Burundi’s bill was ushered through the National Assembly. “The government has moved this bill quickly and unjustly through the legislative process,” said a representative of ARDO. “The whole process has happened over the course of a weekend, with no input from civil society or general discussion about the issue of homosexuality and freedom of expression within Burundi.”

The groups warn that HIV/AIDS prevention efforts will likely suffer if the anti-gay legislation is passed. Despite societal trends growing more hostile to LGBT people, Burundi has made efforts to curb the spread of the deadly virus that causes AIDS. Laws criminalizing same-sex behavior will likely push LGBT people underground, making it hard for prevention workers to reach vulnerable populations.

The ban on homosexuality was a provision in a new penal code that abolishes the death penalty in Burundi. Many legislators feared backlash from the constituents over the vote to end executions, but a final tally of 90 yeas to 10 abstentions pushed the legislation through.

According to the AFP, some legislators feel that the homosexual ban tarnished the historic legislation. “Unfortunately, this penal law is also a regression because it now makes homosexuality a criminal offence, whereas it had been tolerated until now,” the international news service reported MP Catherine Mabobori saying. She abstained during the vote.

News in brief

Dutch Emancipation Minister Ronald Plasterk has announced he is giving public subsidies to Christian organizations who try to cure homosexuality. Gay organizations have balked at the practice. Plasterk said, “These organisations have access to circles where there would otherwise be no homo-emancipation at all. Of course, I do not support the aims completely, but they have taken important hurdles. For example, the recognition that there are homos in Christian circles.” NIS News Bulletin, nisnews.nl.

Community Marketing, Inc., a global LGBT market research firm, has announced it will hold a full-day educational and networking European Symposium on Gay and Lesbian Tourism on Feb. 13, 2009. The event will be held in London. TMCNet, tmcnet.com.

On Nov. 25, the Australian Senate passed amendments giving same-sex couples all the same rights and benefits as married, heterosexual couples. The legislative moves, entailing changes to around 100 family, health and tax laws, came short of extending full marriage equality. The International Herald-Tribune, iht.com.

The Catholic St. Margaret’s Adoption and Child Care Society in Glasgow, Scotland, has been accused of bucking U.K. gay rights laws. The agency changed its constitution to “rely on laws which ban discrimination on religious grounds to continue its policy” of discrimination against same-sex couples, according to The London Times, timeonline.co.uk.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.