Several countries in sub-Saharan Africa have made progress in recognizing the human rights of LGBTI people, but much work remains to be done in the region’s 29 countries that still have laws against same-sex intimacy.
LGBTI rights in those African countries are the focus of the following excerpts from the 2015 edition of the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The complete reports cover a variety of human-rights issues beyond those excerpted here, including workers’ rights; discrimination against women, children, minorities, indigenous people and others; torture; and civil liberties.
The reports are all written from the perspective of the United States, although the U.S. is far from blameless with regard to human rights. Among many current examples, at least 14 U.S. states keep unenforceable anti-gay laws on the books; the United Kingdom has just issued a travel advisory warning about the discriminatory new laws imposed in North Carolina and Mississippi; and the U.S. still struggles to end its historic mistreatment of indigenous people and of racial, ethnic and other minorities.
This blog is reprinting LGBTI-focused excerpts about human rights in:
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- Middle East and North Africa
- The Americas (Caribbean nations only)
- Oceania, with a separate post about Indonesia, because of the length of the report.
- Russia and nearby countries that have considered or adopted anti-“gay propaganda” laws.
Excerpts from the recently published U.S. State Department reports from 2015 begin here:
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, religion, disability, language, or social status, but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The constitution does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. Violence and discrimination against women, child abuse, child prostitution, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against persons with disabilities were problems.
The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination but does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the law does not criminalize sexual relationships between persons of the same sex. Sections of the 1886 penal code could be viewed as criminalizing homosexual activity, but they are no longer used by the judicial system. The constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, however. Local and international NGOs reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals faced discrimination and harassment, but reports of violence against the LGBTI community based on sexual orientation were rare. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTI individuals. For example, the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS worked with local NGOs and LGBTI activists to promote antidiscriminatory practices by health practitioners and communities across the country.
Discrimination against LGBTI individuals often went unreported. LGBTI individuals asserted that sometimes police refused to register their grievances. A police commander in Luanda stated police have the obligation to record all reports of discrimination and recommended LGBTI persons report improper behavior by police officers to the national police headquarters. In 2014 a group of LGBTI individuals formed the first openly gay association in civil society. The association was created to help LGBTI youth facing harassment or social alienation. During the year the association partnered with the Ministry of Health and the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS to improve access to health services and sexual education for the LGBTI community.
On February 2, soap opera Jikulumesso showed the first same-sex kiss on national television between two men. The kiss was seen as controversial and elicited discussion in mainstream and social media outlets on homosexuality in the country. No reports of violence against LGBTI individuals were reported as a result of the broadcast or subsequent social debate.
The constitution and law prohibit governmental discrimination based on ethnicity, race, nationality, creed, sex, or social status, and the government generally respected these provisions. The law does not specifically mention sexual orientation or gender identity, although aspects of same-sex sexual activity remain illegal under the penal code. The employment act protects sexual orientation from discrimination. In addition, as long as a government job applicant is able to perform the duties of the position, he or she may not be discriminated against due to disability or language. The law does not prohibit discrimination by private persons or entities, and there was societal discrimination against women; persons with disabilities; minority ethnic groups, particularly the San; LGBTI persons; and persons with HIV/AIDS.
The law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, but it includes language criminalizing some aspects of same-sex sexual activity. What the law describes as “unnatural acts” are criminalized with a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment, and there was widespread belief this was directed toward LGBTI persons. There were no reports police targeted persons suspected of same-sex sexual activity. LGBTI-rights organizations claimed there were incidents of violence, societal harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The victims of such incidents seldom filed police reports, primarily due to stigma but occasionally as a result of overt intimidation.
Public meetings of LGBTI advocacy groups and debates on LGBTI issues occurred without disruption or interference. In November 2014 the High Court ruled that the Ministry of Labor and Home Affairs’ refusal to register the LGBTI advocacy organization LeGaBiBo (Lesbian, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana) was unconstitutional, since it violated the group’s right to freedom of association. LeGaBiBo had attempted to register as an NGO since 2009 to advocate for the rights of LGBTI persons, but the government refused registration on the ground the group promoted an illegal activity. The government appealed the decision, and the case was pending before the Court of Appeals at year’s end. In the original judgment, the High Court did not address the ban on some aspects of homosexual activity.
The constitution provides for equal status and protection for all citizens, without distinction as to race, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable disease. The government did not enforce the law in many cases.
The law criminalizes same-sex sexual acts with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment of three months to two years. Since its passage in 2009, however, authorities have not applied it.
The Remuruka Center in Bujumbura offers urgent services to the LGBTI community. The government neither supported nor hindered the activities of local LGBTI organizations or the center.
The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination. It states that a human being, without distinction as to race, religion, sex, or belief, possesses inalienable rights. Although the government made some efforts to enforce these principles, violence and discrimination against women and girls and vulnerable populations persisted.
Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine ranging from CFA francs 20,000 to 200,000 ($35 to $347). Most human rights organizations that advocate for decriminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex consider the penal code invalid for procedural reasons and because it violates the principle of equality. Government officials defended the law by claiming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights state that countries may limit freedoms in the interest of preserving public order and that individuals have the duty to preserve African values and morals.
Although reports of arrests dropped dramatically, homophobia remained a major concern. LGBTI individuals continued to face social stigmatization, harassment, and discrimination. There were increasing reports that both police and civilians extorted money from presumed LGBTI individuals by threatening to expose them.
CAMFAIDS reported that on January 19, in Yaoundé a mob attacked and severely beat a transvestite individual named “Dolores” (legal name, Singa Kimie Jonas). According to the victim, she was heckled by a young man about her appearance and he demanded to see her genitals. He attacked her physically and was joined by approximately 10 others, who used sticks and stones to beat her. A passing law enforcement officer rescued her.
Suspected members of the LGBTI community continued to receive anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and e-mail. Unlike in previous years, there were few reports that LGBTI individuals who sought protection from authorities were extorted or arrested.
Despite the cultural environment, various human rights and health organizations continued to advocate for the LGBTI community by defending LGBTI individuals being prosecuted, promoting HIV/AIDS initiatives, and working to change laws prohibiting consensual same-sex activity.
Although the law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, disability, language, or social status, there were reports of discrimination against women and persons with disabilities.
Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and can be punished by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to one million Comoran francs ($115 to $2,300). Authorities reported no arrests or prosecutions for same-sex sexual activity during the year. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons generally did not publicly reveal their sexual orientation due to societal pressure. There were no local LGBTI organizations.
The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit discrimination based on race, religion, political opinion, ethnic origin, social or economic status, disability, gender, age, and language, but the government did not enforce these prohibitions.
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by 10 days’ to three years’ incarceration. The government did not actively enforce this law. Antidiscrimination laws relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons do not exist.
There are no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to investigate bias-motivated crimes against LGBTI persons. There was no official action to investigate and punish those complicit in abuses, including state or nonstate actors. There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country. In general society stigmatized discussion of LGBTI issues.
The constitution provides all persons equal protection without discrimination based on race, nation, nationality or other social origin, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, property, birth, or status, but the government did not fully promote and protect these rights. Discrimination based on age, HIV status, or having other communicable disease is not explicitly mentioned, although the constitution adds “or other status” to the list of prohibited bases for discrimination.
Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable with three to 15 years’ imprisonment. No law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were some reports of violence against LGBTI individuals; reporting was limited due to fear of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation of abuses against LGBTI persons. Individuals did not identify themselves as LGBTI persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity. Activists in the LGBTI community stated they were followed and at times feared for their safety. There were reports as many as a dozen individuals were incarcerated for allegedly engaging in same-sex sexual activities.
The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, most of whom were male, requested assistance in changing their behavior to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions. Nevertheless, discrimination against women remained a problem. The constitution and law do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In October 2014 the president signed into law an amendment to the criminal code making “aggravated homosexuality” a crime punishable by life imprisonment. The bill defines “aggravated homosexuality” to include serial offenders or persons with a previous conviction for homosexuality, persons having same-sex relations with someone under the age of 18 or with members of other vulnerable groups, or a person with HIV having same-sex relations.
Prior to this amendment, the law established prison terms ranging from five to 14 years for any man who commits in public or private “any act of gross indecency,” engages a male sex worker, or has actual sexual contact with another man. There was no similar law applicable to women. There are antidiscrimination laws, but they do not protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) individuals.
In November 2014 the NIA arrested three persons on suspicion of homosexual activities, following a security operation targeting persons suspected of being involved in illegal activity. The men–Alieu Sarr, Momarr Sowe, and M. L. Bittaye–appeared before a magistrate in Banjul in December 2014. The group was the first that authorities tried under the “aggravated homosexuality” amendment. Authorities later transferred the case to the high court, and on July 30, authorities acquitted Sarr and Sowe. They thereafter left the country. The trial of the third accused, M. L. Bittaye, was in progress at year’s end.
Amnesty International reported in November 2014 that NIA officials arrested and detained eight persons, including a 17-year-old boy, at NIA headquarters for crimes of homosexuality. There they were subjected to torture and mistreatment, including beatings, sensory deprivation, and threat of rape, to force confessions for their “crimes” and reveal information concerning other persons perceived to be gay or lesbian. There were reports of LGBTI citizens fleeing to neighboring countries due to fear of arrest.
There was strong societal discrimination against LGBTI individuals. There were no LGBTI organizations in the country.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, and language; however, government enforcement was generally inadequate. Limited financial resources and a generally permissive societal attitude toward such discrimination contributed to its perpetuation. Courts were empowered to order specific enforcement of these prohibitions.
The law criminalizes the act of “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” It is a misdemeanor offense if the individuals involved are 16 years of age or older and a felony offense if one of the individuals is under the age of 16. The offense pertains to both persons engaged in same-sex male relationships and heterosexual relationships, but it does not apply to individuals in same-sex female relationships. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
LGBTI persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment. They also faced police harassment and extortion attempts. There were reports police were reluctant to investigate claims of assault or violence against LGBTI persons. Gay men in prison were often subjected to sexual and other physical abuse. The government took no known action to investigate or punish those complicit in the abuses.
While there were no reported cases of police or government violence against LGBTI persons during the year, stigma, intimidation, and the attitude of the police toward LGBTI persons were factors in preventing victims from reporting incidents of abuse.
The law states that all persons are equal before the law regardless of race or gender, but the government did not enforce the law uniformly. A new labor code adopted in February prohibits discrimination in employment based on gender, disability, or ethnic identity.
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by three years in prison; however, there were no known prosecutions. In 2012 the government restructured OPROGEM [the Office for the Protection of Gender, Children, and Morals] to include a unit for investigating morals violations, including same-sex sexual conduct. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that authorities arrested cross-dressing men in nightclubs on public nuisance charges. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.
Deep religious and cultural taboos against consensual same-sex sexual conduct existed. There were no official or NGO reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although societal stigma likely prevented victims from reporting abuse or harassment. There were no active LGBTI organizations.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, religion, ethnic or social origin, disability, and marital or health status. Government authorities did not effectively enforce many of these provisions, and discrimination against women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; individuals with HIV/AIDS; persons with disabilities; persons suspected of witchcraft; and certain ethnic groups was a problem. There was also evidence that some national and local government officials tolerated, and in some instances instigated, ethnic violence. The law criminalizes homosexual activity.
The constitution does not explicitly protect LGBTI persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The penal code criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which is interpreted to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity, and specifies a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment if convicted. A separate statute specifically criminalizes sex between men and specifies a maximum penalty of 21 years’ imprisonment if convicted. Police detained persons under these laws, particularly persons suspected of prostitution, but released them shortly afterward. Statistics presented in the National Assembly in March 2014 indicated that police opened files on 595 “unnatural offenses” cases since 2010, including 49 in 2014. Human rights organizations contended that these statistics conflated cases of consensual same-sex sexual activity with nonconsensual sexual activity as well as with cases of bestiality. According to a 2014 report issued by the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya and the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, in 2012-14 there were eight prosecutions of gay men on indecency charges.
LGBTI organizations reported police more frequently used public order laws (for example, disturbing the peace) than same-sex legislation to arrest LGBTI individuals. Police frequently harassed, intimidated, or physically abused LGBTI individuals in custody.
Authorities permitted LGBTI advocacy organizations to register and conduct activities. There were reports, however, that some organizations registered under modified platforms to avoid denial of registration by the government.
Violence and discrimination against LGBTI individuals was widespread. According to a 2014 report by journalist Denis Nzioka, LGBTI individuals were especially vulnerable to blackmail and rape by police officers and individuals who used LBGTI websites to locate victims. Human rights and LGBTI rights organizations noted victims were extremely reluctant to report abuse or seek redress.
According to the joint report of Human Rights Watch and the NGO Persons Marginalized and Aggrieved of Kenya, The Issue is Violence: Attacks on LGBT People on Kenya’s Coast, police arrested two men in Kwale County on February 18 and charged them with “unnatural offenses” and trafficking in “obscene material.” Police searched their homes without a warrant and took them to Kwale District Court, where the prosecutor received a court order for the men to undergo anal “medical examinations.” Authorities released one man on bond after two months at Kwale Medium Prison, while authorities released the other after four months. The case against both continued at year’s end.
In April the High Court ruled in favor of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission [a Kenyan advocacy group], in a case challenging the government’s refusal to register LGBTI advocacy and welfare organizations. The NGLHRC sought court intervention after unsuccessfully trying since 2012 to register under the Nongovernmental Organizations Coordination Act. The court ruled that refusing to register the organization was an infringement on constitutionally protected freedom of association. The government filed an appeal against the ruling; the court had not taken action on the appeal as of year’s end.
In conjunction with the July visit of a high-level foreign official [U.S. President Barack Obama!], there was increased public discourse on the issue of LGBTI rights in the country. Religious and political organizations, including the antigay parliamentary caucus formed in 2014, held several demonstrations in early July protesting against any attempt to legalize same-sex marriage.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, creed, place of origin, disability, or political opinion; however, the government did not enforce these provisions effectively. The constitution allows only persons who are “Negroes” or of “Negro descent” to become citizens and own land. Lebanese born in the country over several generations, for example, remained noncitizens in accordance with this provision.
Tribal tensions exploited during the country’s civil war that formally ended in 2003 continued on a diminished level to contribute to social and political friction among ethnic groups.
The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity, and the culture is strongly opposed to homosexuality. “Voluntary sodomy” is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to one year’s imprisonment. As of year’s end, two persons were in MCP [Monrovia Central Prison] custody for sodomy, one of whom had been in pretrial detention for more than three years. The law prohibits same-sex couples, regardless of citizenship, from adopting children. LGBTI persons were cautious about revealing their sexual orientation or gender identities. A few civil society groups promoted the rights of LGBTI individuals, but most maintained a very low profile due to fear of mistreatment.
There were press and civil society reports of harassment of persons perceived to be LGBTI. Societal stigma and fear of official reprisal may have prevented victims from reporting violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The law forbids discrimination based on race; color; sex; language; religion; political or other opinion; national, ethnic, or social origin; disability; property; birth; or other status. The law does not specifically mention sexual orientation. The capacity of government institutions to enforce the law was limited.
LGBTI persons are denied by law and practice basic civil, political, social, and economic rights. Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison, including hard labor. The penal code outlaws “unnatural offenses” and “indecent practices between males.” In July 2014, however, Solicitor General Janet Banda told the UN Human Rights Commission that the government would not enforce these laws. On December 19, Minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu reaffirmed the moratorium on the enforcement of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity.
In 2013 the High Court invited friend-of-the-court submissions on the constitutionality of laws against “unnatural offenses” and “indecent practices between males.” It received arguments both for and against the laws’ constitutionality, with most of the arguments being in opposition. The attorney general filed a motion with the Supreme Court objecting to the process on the basis that the chief justice must certify constitutional questions and obtained an order in February 2014 suspending the proceedings. As of October the motion had yet to be decided.
Same-sex sexual activity may also be prosecuted as “conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.” A 2011 amendment to the penal code established penalties for consensual same-sex sexual activity between women, setting a maximum prison term for conviction of five years. On December 7, police arrested and charged two men under the anti-sodomy laws, compelled them to undergo nonconsensual medical examinations, and released them on bail the following day. The Minister of Justice took over the investigation and dropped all charges citing the moratorium on the enforcement of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity. Two men charged pursuant to the antisodomy laws in May 2014, after one of them disclosed the relationship to police, remained free on bail at year’s end.
The Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Act enacted in April explicitly defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It also for the first time in Malawian law defined sex (gender) as sex at birth.
In July during Malawi’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, the government accepted two recommendations regarding the rights of LGBTI persons. One dealt with the effective protection of LGBTI individuals and the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against them. The second one aimed at providing for effective access to health care including HIV/AIDS treatment.
From January to September, the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation and the Center for Development of People documented 40 instances of abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The nature of the abuses fell into three broad categories: stigma, harassment, and violence. The Weekend Nation newspaper published a weekly column entitled “Sexual Minority Forum” written by the leaders of human rights NGOs to shed light on conditions affecting LGBTI persons and their rights.
The constitution and law provide for equality for all citizens regardless of race, national origin, sex, or social status, but the government often favored individuals based on racial and tribal affiliation and social status.
No laws protect LGBTI persons from discrimination. Under sharia as applied in the country, consensual same-sex sexual activity between men is punishable by death if witnessed by four individuals, and such activity between women is punishable by three months to two years in prison and a fine of 5,000 to 60,000 ouguiyas ($15 to $182). The LGBTI community was rarely identified or discussed, which observers attributed to the severity of the stigma and legal penalties attached to such labels.
The constitution and law specifically prohibit discrimination based race, caste, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social and civil status, disability, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. Despite laws in place, discrimination occurred, particularly against women; persons with disabilities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, but victims filed few cases for cultural or societal reasons. Non-Hindus claimed they faced discrimination in hiring and promotion for government jobs. The government imposes a maximum age limit of 40 years for the recruitment of new civil servants. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking of adults and children and prescribes penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for offenders. There have been no prosecutions under the human trafficking law.
The law does not specifically criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. It criminalizes sodomy, however, among both same-sex and heterosexual couples. Sodomy cases that reached the courts almost exclusively involved heterosexual persons, especially as an aggravating factor in divorce cases. Authorities rarely used the sodomy statute rarely against same-sex couples, unless one of the partners cited sodomy in the context of sexual assault.
LGBTI victims of verbal abuse or violence within the family reported such incidents to local NGOs Collectif Arc-en-Ciel or Young Queer Alliance. Victims generally refused to file complaints with police, however, for fear of ostracism or, in some cases, fear of reprisal from family members. On September 18, police officers of Sodnac police station, accompanied by police officers of the Criminal Investigation Division of Quatre Bornes, arrested a young transvestite allegedly for no reason. Police took the victim to the Sodnac police station where police strip-searched him and forced him to parade naked in front of police officers who mocked him. The victim filed a complaint with the NHRC, and at year’s end the investigation was ongoing.
Following a complaint about the questionnaire used by the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life to prohibit blood donation from LGBTI persons, the ministry amended its policy and website in 2013 to indicate individuals who have had same-sex sexual activity could donate blood. There were anecdotal reports, however, that health officials still prevented LGBTI persons from donating blood.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on disability, sex, race, color, ethnic origin, religion, creed, or social or economic status. It also specifically prohibits “the practice and ideology of apartheid.” The government did not effectively enforce all prohibitions.
Although laws inherited at independence criminalize sodomy, the ban was not enforced. The law defines sodomy as intentional anal sexual relations between men. This definition excludes anal sexual relations between heterosexual couples and sexual relations between lesbians. Many citizens considered all same-sex sexual activity taboo, however. The prohibition against sexual discrimination in the constitution did not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Some politicians opposed any legislation that would specifically protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on community, place of origin, ethnic group, sex, religion, or political opinion, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on the circumstances of a person’s birth.
In January 2014 then president Jonathan enacted the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), which effectively renders illegal all forms of activity supporting or promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. Under the SSMPA, anyone found to have entered into a same-sex marriage or civil union may be punished by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. In addition anyone found guilty of aiding “the solemnization of a same-sex marriage or civil union, or supports the registration, operation, and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions, or meetings,” or “registers, operates, or participates in gay clubs, societies, organizations, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship” commits an offense punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment. There were no reports the government enforced these provisions during the year.
Following passage of the SSMPA, LGBTI persons reported increased harassment and threats against them based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. News reports and LGBTI advocates reported numerous arrests, but detainees were in all cases released without formal charges after paying a bond.
According to a study published in June, since passage of the SSMPA, gay and bisexual men were increasingly reluctant to access HIV health-care services due to fear of being “outed.” The 707 gay and bisexual men surveyed were receiving HIV prevention and treatment services from a community-based clinic in 2013 and 2014. They made 756 visits to the clinic before the law passed but only 420 after its enactment.
Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal under federal law and is punishable by prison sentences of up to 14 years. In the 12 northern states that adopted sharia, adults convicted of engaging in same-sex sexual activity may be subject to execution by stoning. Although sharia courts did not impose such sentences during the year, individuals convicted of same-sex sexual activity were sentenced to lashing.
In January sharia police in Kano arrested 12 men, accusing them of attempting to celebrate a gay marriage. Authorities released 10 of them to their parents after the parents signed statements indicating they would keep their children away from such activities. As of December there was no information on the remaining two men.
Because of widespread societal taboos against same-sex sexual activity, very few LGBTI persons were open about their sexual orientation. Several NGOs provided LGBTI groups with legal advice and training in advocacy, media responsibility, and HIV/AIDS awareness, as well as providing safe havens for LGBTI individuals. The government and its agents did not impede the work of these groups during the year.
The constitution and laws provide that men and women are equal under the law and prohibit discrimination based on race, religion, citizenship, political opinion, gender, disability, language, HIV-positive status, or social status. Discrimination was widespread, and antidiscrimination laws, in particular laws against violence against women and children, generally were not enforced.
Consensual same-sex sexual activity, referred to in the law as an “unnatural act,” is a criminal offense, and penalties range from one to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between 100,000 and 1.5 million CFA francs ($173 and $2,600).
For example, on July 21, police in Guediawaye arrested without warrant seven men and charged them with the “commission of unnatural acts” after the mother of one of the men reported her son to the police. On August 21, a judge in Dakar sentenced the seven to two-year sentences with a minimum of six months’ imprisonment. According to sources who spoke to NGO Human Rights Watch, no police officers or other witnesses testified against the men at the trial, and the police document provided none of the basic elements for proving a crime, such as details about the alleged sexual acts. The prosecutor alleged the men’s telephones contained incriminating messages and images but did not present them in court. An appeal was filed in the case.
LGBTI persons faced widespread discrimination, social intolerance, and acts of violence. Local NGOs worked actively on LGBTI rights issues, but because of social stigma and laws against homosexuality, they maintained an exceedingly low profile. There are no laws to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, nor are there hate crime laws that could be used to prosecute crimes motivated by bias against LGBTI persons.
The media rarely reported acts of hatred or violence against LGBTI persons. Local human rights groups, however, reported LGBTI persons faced frequent harassment by police, including arbitrary arrest and poor treatment in detention due to their sexual orientation.
The constitution states, “Every person has a right to equal protection of the law…without discrimination on any ground except as is necessary in a democratic society.” There was no overt discrimination in housing, employment, education, or other social services based on race, gender, ethnicity, or nationality, but there were reports of discrimination based on political affiliation.
Consensual same-sex activity between men is punishable by 14 years’ imprisonment, but the law was not enforced. There were no reports of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, although LGBTI activists reported that social stigma prevented incidents from being pursued. A local NGO formed to advocate for the rights of LGBTI persons submitted its registration documents on September 1 and was told that it would take 10 to 14 days, but the application remained pending at year’s end.
The wedding of a British same-sex couple at the residence of the British High Commissioner sparked national debate about whether same-sex activities should be decriminalized.
Although the constitution states that it prohibits discrimination based on race, tribe, gender, place of origin, political opinion, color, and religion, the constitution denies citizenship at birth to persons who are not of “Negro-African descent.” Neither the constitution nor law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, national extraction, citizenship, social origin, age, language, disability, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.
The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition of discrimination based on gender as it affected women and girls, and a number of legal acts and customary laws contravened the constitutional provision. The other prohibitions on discrimination were generally enforced.
A law from 1861 prohibits male-to-male sexual acts (“buggery” and “crimes against nature”), but there is no legal prohibition against female-to-female sex. The 1861 law, which carries a penalty of life imprisonment for “indecent assault” upon a man or 10 years for attempting such an assault, was not enforced. The constitution does not offer protection from discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Sexual orientation and gender identity civil society groups alleged that because the law prohibits male-to-male sexual activity, the law limits lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons from exercising the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. The law, however, does not restrict the rights of persons to speak out on LGBTI issues. The constitution prohibits various forms of discrimination but does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. No hate crime laws cover LGBTI persons. The law does not address transgender persons.
A few organizations, including Dignity Association and the local chapter of Pride Equality, supported LGBTI persons, but they maintained low profiles. LGBTI groups claimed police were biased against them.
As of November there were no reports police or other government agents perpetrated violence or other abuse against LGBTI persons. LGBTI advocates alleged, however, that authorities did not take stringent action against perpetrators of crimes against LGBTI persons.
Social discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity occurred in nearly every facet of life for known LGBTI persons, and many chose to have heterosexual relationships and family units to shield them. In the areas of employment and education, sexual orientation or gender identity was a basis for abusive treatment, which led individuals to leave their jobs or courses of study. It was difficult for gays and lesbians to receive health services due to fear their confidentiality rights would be ignored if they were honest about their ailments; many chose not to be tested or treated for sexually transmitted infections. Obtaining secure housing was also a problem for LGBTI persons. A 2013 study released by the NGO Global Rights reported that more than half of medical practitioners surveyed were unwilling to provide medical services to LGBTI patients. Families frequently shunned their LGBTI children, leading some to turn to prostitution to survive. Adults could lose their leases if their sexual orientation became public. Lesbian girls and women were also victims of “planned rapes” initiated by family members in an effort to change their sexual orientation. Religious groups reportedly promoted discrimination against the LGBTI community.
As of September there was no information regarding any official action by government authorities to investigate or punish public entities or private persons complicit in abuses against LGBTI persons. The HRCSL, however, undertook outreach sessions in July and September in Freetown, Makeni, and other urban areas to inform LGBTI persons of the HRCSL and other mechanisms that could assist them in submitting complaints and request investigation of and follow-up on bias-motivated crimes and other incidents of discrimination against members of the LGBTI community.
The provisional federal constitution states that all citizens, regardless of sex, religion, social or economic status, political opinion, clan, disability, occupation, birth, dialect, age, race, color, tribe, ethnicity, culture, or wealth, shall have equal rights and duties before the law. The constitution and law do not prohibit discrimination based on national origin or citizenship, social origin, HIV status, or having other communicable diseases. The provisional constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Authorities did not enforce antidiscrimination provisions effectively in any of the regions.
Same-sex sexual contact is punishable by imprisonment for two months to three years. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Society considered sexual orientation and gender identity taboo topics, and there was no known public discussion of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in any region. There were no known LGBTI organizations and no reports of events. There were few reports of societal violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity due to severe societal stigma that prevented LGBTI individuals from making their sexual orientation or gender identity known publicly. There were no known actions to investigate or punish those complicit in abuses. Hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms did not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community.
The transitional constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, and social status. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibitions. In October the Council of Ministers recommended that the NLA ratify a pan-African youth convention but with specific reservations one government official described as “encouraging” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals or activities.
The law does not prohibit same-sex sexual acts, but it prohibits “unnatural offenses,” defined as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” which are punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment if committed with consent and up to 14 years if without consent. There were no reports authorities enforced the law during the year.
During a meeting of the Council of Ministers in October, the government voted to accede to the African Youth Convention, with a single reservation concerning convention language regarding reproductive needs. A government spokesperson explained the reservation was necessary because gay men and lesbians were “unacceptable in South Sudanese culture.” There were no known LGBTI organizations. While there were no reports of specific incidents of discrimination or abuse during the year, stigma was a likely factor in preventing incidents from being reported.
The Interim National Constitution states, “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination as to race, color, sex, language, religious creed, political opinion, or ethnic origin to the equal protection under the law.” Other articles of the constitution encourage tolerance between different tribes and provides for protection of women and persons with disabilities. The law provides for safeguards for children. The government worked to promote the rights of women, children, and persons with disabilities. It did not always provide protections to persons of different religious groups.
In its October 9 report, UNESCO expressed concern about discriminatory provisions in several pieces of legislation affecting women, religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. It also noted the lack of legislation to implement and enforce constitutional principles of nondiscrimination.
LGBTI persons are not considered a protected class under antidiscrimination laws. The law does not specifically prohibit homosexuality but criminalizes sodomy, which is punishable by death. Antigay sentiment was pervasive in society. LGBTI individuals expressed concern for their safety and did not identify themselves publicly. There was at least one confirmed case of an individual detained, beaten, and harassed by authorities because of his suspected affiliation with LGBTI-friendly groups. LGBTI organizations increasingly felt pressured to suspend or alter their activities due to threat of harm. Several LGBTI persons felt compelled to leave the country due to fear of persecution, intimidation, or harassment.
There were no reports of official action to investigate or punish those complicit in LGBTI-related discrimination or abuses.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, age, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, or social status, but the government did not consistently enforce the law.
While colonial-era legislation against sodomy remains on the books, no penalties are specified, and there were no arrests. On several occasions throughout the year, the government issued statements that same-sex relationships and acts were illegal but did not prosecute any cases. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was prevalent, and LGBTI persons generally concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, the director of the LGBTI NGO Rock of Hope confirmed a March 15 newspaper report that Kaylo Glover, a young lesbian, was axed to death in Nhlangano by a man who objected to her lesbianism. LGBTI persons who were open about their sexual orientation and relationships faced censure and exclusion from the chiefdom-based patronage system, which could result in eviction from one’s home. Chiefs, pastors, and government officials criticized same-sex sexual conduct as neither morally Swazi nor Christian. LGBTI advocacy organizations had trouble registering with the government. One such organization, House of Pride, was under the umbrella of another organization dealing with HIV/AIDS. It was difficult to determine the extent of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity because victims were not likely to come forward, and most LGBTI persons were not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on nationality, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, color, religion, sex, or station in life. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibitions. No provisions prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or language. The law prohibits certain forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal in the country. The law on both the mainland and Zanzibar punishes “gross indecency” by up to five years in prison or a fine. The law punishes any person who has “carnal knowledge of another against the order of nature or permits a man to have carnal knowledge of him against the order of nature” with a prison sentence of 30 years to life on the mainland and imprisonment up to 14 years in Zanzibar. In Zanzibar the law also provides for imprisonment up to five years or a fine for “acts of lesbianism.” The burden of proof in such cases is significant, and according to a 2013 HRW report, arrests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons rarely led to prosecutions. They usually were a pretext for police to collect bribes or coerce sex from vulnerable individuals. Nonetheless, the Commission on Human Rights and Good Governance’s prison visits in 2014 revealed that “unnatural offenses” were among the most common reasons for pretrial detention of minors. In the past courts charged individuals suspected of same-sex sexual conduct with loitering or prostitution. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTI persons were targets of the government sanctioned “sungusungu” citizen patrols. They were often afraid to report violence and other crimes, including those committed by state agents due to fear of arrest. LGBTI persons faced societal discrimination that restricted their access to health care, including access to information about HIV, housing, and employment. There were no known government efforts to combat such discrimination.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, although the government did not enforce these provisions effectively. The constitution and law do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Article 392 of the Penal Code forbids “acts against nature committed with an individual of one’s sex,” widely understood as a reference to same-sex sexual activity. The law provides that a person convicted of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity may be sentenced to one to three years’ imprisonment and fined one million to three million CFA ($1,733 to $5,199), but the law was not enforced directly. On those occasions when police do arrest someone for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity, the charge is usually for some other violation as justification for the arrest, such as disturbing the peace or public urination. The media code forbids promotion of immorality. LGBTI persons faced societal discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care. Existing antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTI persons. No laws allow transgendered persons to change gender markers on government-issued identity documents.
A revised draft of the penal code, debated by a National Assembly drafting committee in August and September, did not alter Article 392. The draft included new language in a separate article that would punish anyone who offends the “public morality” through speeches, writings, images, and other means. This came despite international pressure on the legislature to use the broad update of the penal code to drop discriminatory language. Several LGBTI groups were vocal in their opposition to the revision of the penal code, issuing press releases calling on lawmakers to eliminate Article 392. There were no overt reprisals against these groups by authorities.
The government allowed LGBTI groups to register with the Ministry of Territorial Affairs as health-related groups, particularly those focused on HIV/AIDS prevention. Activists reported violence against LGBTI persons was common, but police ignored complaints. Most human rights organizations, including the CNDH, refused to address LGBTI concerns.
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, age, language, and HIV/communicable disease status. The government did not enforce laws against discrimination adequately, and locally or culturally prevalent discrimination against women, children, persons with disabilities, or certain ethnic groups were problems. The law does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and the penal code prohibits “unnatural offenses” that authorities often used to arrest members of the LGBTI community.
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal, according to a colonial-era law that criminalizes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and provides for a penalty up to life imprisonment. LGBTI persons faced discrimination, legal restrictions, and societal harassment and violence, intimidation, and threats.
On January 15, police arrested nine men who helped organize an HIV/AIDS testing clinic in the western Ntungamo District for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” Police claimed four of those arrested were engaged in sexual activity at the time of arrest, a charge disputed by those arrested. The men were subjected to forced anal exams; their court cases continued at year’s end.
In July a consortium of local LGBTI rights NGOs released a report that listed 89 human rights violations of LGBTI individuals in 2014. Of those, state actors perpetrated 47 violations and nonstate actors 42. The report commended some police officers for protecting the rights of LGBTI individuals and highlighted five such cases. In May 2014 police rescued a bisexual man from a mob that had locked him in a house and assaulted him.
In August 2014 the Constitutional Court nullified the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which the president signed into law in February 2014. The president stated repeatedly that the country did not need new anti-LGBTI legislation because homosexuality was already illegal under the penal code.
Some religious and political leaders delivered church sermons and wrote articles to lobby the public against LGBTI persons. On September 3, media quoted Amos Lapenga, director of ethics and integrity in the Office of the President, attributing the increase of “immoral acts like homosexuality” to foreigners.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, place of origin, ethnic group (tribe), gender, marital status, color, disability, language, and social status. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Violence and discrimination against women and children, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and discrimination against persons with disabilities continued.
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity and penalties for conviction of engaging in “acts against the order of nature” are 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Conviction of the lesser charge of gross indecency carries penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment. The government enforced laws against same-sex sexual activity and did not address societal discrimination against LGBTI individuals.
Societal violence against persons based on gender, sex, and sexual orientation continued. LGBTI persons in particular were at risk of societal violence due to prevailing prejudices, misperceptions of the law, lack of legal protections, and inability to access health services. Some politicians, media figures, and religious leaders expressed opposition to basic protection and rights for LGBTI persons in arguing against same-sex marriage.
According to the VSU [Victim Support Unit] report for the first half of the year, there were 18 reported cases of “unnatural offenses,” compared with 23 for the same period in 2014. Rather than submit cases for trial, police on several occasions arrested suspected LGBTI persons on bogus charges, forcing them to spend at least one night in jail. In most cases police demanded bribes before releasing the individuals. Police increasingly charged transgender persons with “impersonation” and subjected them to verbal abuse and harassment while in detention. The charges could not generally be successfully prosecuted, and detainees were released. In October, however, police in Mongu arrested a transgender woman who was convicted of sodomy-related charges in November. She awaited sentencing at year’s end.
There were several other LGBTI court cases during the year. On May 15, the Lusaka High Court confirmed the acquittal of Paul Kasonkomona, whom police arrested in 2013 for promoting fair treatment of LGBTI persons. In its ruling the court stated that advocating for gay rights, although “repulsive to some,” was freedom of speech, which must be protected. In a separate ruling, the Chisamba Magistrate Court dismissed a case involving two men accused of engaging in acts against the order of nature. The court dismissed the prosecution’s evidence as inconsistent and uncorroborated.
Several groups quietly promoted LGBTI rights and provided services to LGBTI individuals, principally in the health sector. The groups held private social gatherings but did not participate in open demonstrations or marches in view of societal stigma against LGBTI persons.
According to LGBTI advocacy groups, societal violence occurred, as did discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care. LGBTI groups reported frequent harassment of LGBTI persons and their families, including threats via text message and e-mail, vandalism, stalking, and outright violence. Activists also stated several LGBTI persons committed suicide.
The constitution’s bill of rights provides that no person may be deprived of fundamental rights, such as the right to life, personal liberty, security of person, freedom of assembly and association, equality, and political and socioeconomic rights. It prohibits discrimination based on one’s race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, color, creed, gender, or disability. The bill of rights may not be arbitrarily amended and, in the section on the rights of women, states that all “laws, customs, traditions, and practices that infringe the rights of women conferred by this constitution are void to the extent of the infringement.” Nevertheless, discrimination against women and persons with disabilities persisted. The government and ZANU-PF continued to infringe on the right to due process, citizenship, and property ownership in ways that affected the white minority disproportionately.
The constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the country’s criminal code, “any act involving physical contact between men that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act” carries a penalty of up to one year in prison or a fine up to $5,000. Despite that, there were no known cases of prosecutions of consensual same-sex sexual activity. Common law prevents gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians from fully expressing their sexual orientation. In some cases it criminalizes the display of affection between men.
The president and ZANU-PF leaders publicly criticized the LGBTI community. On September 28, the president stated, “we are not gays” during his remarks at the UN General Assembly and rejected the promotion of LGBTI rights, which he said were contrary to the country’s values, norms, traditions, and beliefs.
Members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), the primary organization dedicated to advancing the rights of LGBTI persons, experienced harassment and discrimination. In December 2014 a group of intruders forced their way into the private year-end event of GALZ, attacking, robbing, and leaving 35 attendees injured. In contrast the Bulawayo-based Sexual Rights Center (SRC), an organization similarly dedicated to advancing the rights of “sexual minorities,” reported minimal harassment.
Religious leaders in this traditionally conservative and Christian society encouraged discrimination against LGBTI persons. In March, Walter Magaya, leader of the Healing and Deliverance Ministries, stated that gays and lesbians were “spiritually afflicted and just like all evil spirits, they need deliverance.”
LGBTI persons reported widespread societal discrimination based on sexual orientation. In response to social pressure, some families reportedly subjected their LGBTI members to “corrective” rape and forced marriages to encourage heterosexual conduct. Women in particular were subjected to rape by male family members. Victims rarely reported such crimes to police. LGBTI persons often left school at an early age due to discrimination and had higher rates of unemployment and homelessness. Many persons who identified themselves as LGBTI did not seek medical care for sexually transmitted diseases or other health problems due to fear that health providers would shun them or report them to authorities.