Concerns increase for safety of LGBT in African countries
Nigeria, Cameroon and Uganda among hotspots of violence
by Cary Alan Johnson and Michael Hartwyck
‘We are the homosexual and transgender children of God. All we ask is that we be allowed to live in peace.’
— Victor Mukassa
Sexual Minorities in Uganda
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is deeply alarmed by increased violence, arrests and threats of arrest of LGBT individuals in three African nations. In recent weeks, 18 men have been detained in Nigeria, purportedly for cross-dressing and six gay men have been arrested in Cameroon on the heels of widely publicized detention and trials last year that prompted United Nations intervention. Ugandan government officials have joined homophobic religious institutions by calling for the arrests of LGBT activists.
“In each of these countries, LGBT people are challenging the wall of silence around homosexuality and gender identity,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC executive director. “And in each country the government has responded with attempts to snuff out their peaceful pleas to be heard.”
Tear gas had to be used Aug. 21 to disperse an angry crowd intent on meting out mob justice against 18 gay men who were arrested in Bauchi State on Aug. 5. Bauchi is in Northern Nigeria and is governed by Sharia (Islamic law). The men, all whom are in their 20s, have been charged with “vagrancy,” under Article 372 Sec 2(E) of the Bauchi State Islamic code which prohibits cross-dressing and the practice of sodomy. If convicted, the men face a one-year prison sentence and 20 lashes. The men were not wearing women’s clothes at the time of their arrest, according to Joseph Akoro, director of the Independent Project (TIP), a Nigerian LGBT organization.
“This leads us to believe that the charges have been drummed up to incite hatred against gay people in the highly charged environment of our country,” said Akoro.
The men were guests at a straight wedding party held at Benko Hotel, in the Yelwa area of Bauchi. A number of other people were originally detained at the party by the police and by the Hisbah, an Islamic anti-vice squad that works hand-in-hand with the police, but all the women and non-Muslims were released.
According to IGLHRC’s Research and Policy Associate for West Africa Joel Nana, who attended the hearing before Alkali (Judge) Malam Kanimi Aboubacar in the Tunda Al Khali Area court, the behavior of the crowd was shocking.
“Both the prisoners and their lawyers were dehumanized and attacked by the crowd,” said Nana. “It seemed as if these men had already been tried and convicted.”
In neighboring Cameroon, despite a 2006 judgment from the United Nations and expressions of concern from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the government continues to arrest gay men. Six men were jailed after a young man, who had been arrested on theft charges, was coerced by police into naming homosexual friends.
“The tactics of the Cameroonian government define the term ‘witch hunt‚’” said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s senior program officer for Africa. “Imagine being forced to denounce your friends. Imagine finding yourself in prison because your name is on a list.”
More than 20 people have been detained in the past two years in Cameroon under Article 347 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes consensual same-sex acts between men, and many have been subjected to trials that have proven to be unfair by international standards. In response to the lengthy imprisonment of 11 men in Yaoundé in 2006, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared the arrest of consensual same-sex practicing adults to be arbitrary and called upon the government to amend Article 347 and “adapt it to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
In a letter to the Cameroonian Minister of Justice, Steave Neamande, director of Alternatives-Cameroun, a local LGBT organization, expressed horror at the continued pattern of arrest of gay men in his country, noting that, “hardly a month goes by without reports of the arrests of people because of their sexuality.”
IGLHRC is concerned for the safety of leaders and supporters of the LGBT community in the East African nation of Uganda, after senior officials went on the public and private radio stations to call for the arrest of leaders of the country’s LGBT movement. Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhinde and Minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Butoro were showing their solidarity with a coalition of conservative Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Bahai congregations — The Interfaith Coalition Against Homosexuality — that has called for the arrest, deportation, and even murder of gays and lesbians.
LGBT leaders in Uganda, working under the banner of Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), launched the “Let Us Live in Peace Campaign” asking for greater attention to the HIV/AIDS-related needs of LGBT Ugandans and thanking the Ugandan police for helping to reduce anti-LGBT violence. With recent pronouncements by the government, many LGBT are now in fear of their lives again and have gone into hiding. According to SMUG spokesperson Victor Mukasa, “the goal of the campaign is to reach out to all Ugandans so that people realize we are not something imported from the West. We are the homosexual and transgender children of God. All we ask is that we be allowed to live in peace.”