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News Summary: Africa’s Anti-Gay Legislation

Monday Jun 24, 2013
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In December 2011, President Barack Obama signed a memorandum instructing federal agencies to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people overseas. The memorandum coincided with a speech by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Human Rights Council in Geneva declaring that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." Here are some developments concerning anti-gay legislation in Africa since the memorandum was issued:

UGANDA: A bill originally calling for the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" was re-tabled in February 2012. "Aggravated homosexuality" includes engaging in gay sex three times or while HIV-positive. The bill would also punish Ugandans who fail to turn in homosexuals to the authorities. President Obama called the bill "odious" in 2010. Its author has since said the death penalty provision has been removed.

LIBERIA: Lawmakers introduced two bills in 2012 that would strengthen existing anti-gay provisions in the criminal code. A bill banning same-sex marriage was unanimously passed in the Senate but has yet to be taken up by the House of Representatives. A bill in the House of Representatives is broader, and includes a provision banning the "promotion" of gay sex. The bill has yet to be voted on.

MALAWI: Just days after Clinton’s December 2011 speech, Malawi’s justice minister said the government would review anti-gay legislation "in view of the sentiments from the general public and in response to public opinion regarding certain laws." Last November, the government said it would suspend implementation of the current law imposing maximum prison terms of 14 years against men engaged in same-sex sexual conduct. Women charged under the law face prison terms of up to five years. However, the government later denied issuing the statement.

NIGERIA: The House of Representatives last month passed a bill imposing 14-year prison terms for gay marriage. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. Anyone taking part in a group advocating for gay rights or anyone caught in a "public show" of affection also would face 10 years in prison if convicted by a criminal court. The Senate passed the same bill in November 2011, one week before Obama’s memorandum was signed.

CAMEROON: Officials in Cameroon have continued to pursue prosecutions under a penal code provision that carries prison terms of up to five years for gay sex. Rights groups say Cameroon arrests, prosecutes and convicts more people for homosexuality than any other country in Africa, although they say the evidence in such cases is often weak. Evidence cited in recent cases has included effeminate clothing and text messages.

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