Ivory Coast’s shameful silence after anti-gay attacks

Human rights consultant Jean Marc Yao analyzes the shameful silence of Ivory Coast’s non-governmental organizations in the wake of multiple attacks in January by an anti-gay mob that shut down the headquarters of the LGBT-friendly anti-AIDS group Alternative CI. Published in English and in French.

Attack on the headquarters of Alternative Côte d’Ivoire:
Why has Ivorian civil society not spoken up?

By JEAN MARC YAO

Sacs de déchets ont été jetés devant le domicile de militants des droits LGBT en Côte-d'Ivoire. (Photo par Alternative Côte d'Ivoire)
Bags of garbage were dumped outside the home of LGBT rights activists from Alternative CI in Ivory Coast. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d’Ivoire)

Following the recent attacks on the headquarters of Alternative Côte d’Ivoire — the local non-governmental organization that fights against AIDS in local LGBT communities — you would expect that local human rights organizations and other members of Ivorian civil society would unanimously condemn this assault on freedom.

But no.  The executive director of Alternative Côte d’Ivoire said he was  contacted by the president of a coalition of Ivory Coast’s human rights advocates, but no public statement followed this contact. No NGO and no leader of the nation’s civil society stepped forth to publicly condemn this brutal attack .

This is a striking contrast to the strong reactions that came after the attack on the headquarters of the Ivorian League of Human Rights (LIDHO ) on May 21, 2007.  An outburst of sharp, biting public criticisms followed that attack, which was exactly like the attacks on Alternative Côte d’Ivoire.  In 2007, when LIDHO’s chief executive went to the scene to inspect the damage, the NGO was greeted with sympathetic words from the state about the disaster..

Panneau posé à la maison des militants des droits LGBT en Côte-d'Ivoire. (Photo par Alternative Côte d'Ivoire)
“No fags,” says a sign posted posted by opponents of  LGBT rights activists in Ivory Coast. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d’Ivoire)

Why such a double standard? Why have we heard nothing from anyone when Alternative Côte d’Ivoire suffered an attack of the same kind? Doesn’t this show that anti-LGBT discrimination is at the heart of Ivorian civil society?

In fact, because it works to help LGBT people, Alternative Côte d’ Ivoire is a pariah in Ivorian civil society.  On a national level, its bitter experience mirrors what sexual minorities experience daily in this country: ostracism, stigmatization , marginalization, discrimination , etc.

Yet the principle of non-discrimination is the foundation of human rights. By ignoring this principle, are not NGOs that work  to defend human rights in Ivory Coast revealing that they do not consider Alternative CI to be one of them, that they do not think that LGBT people are not humans who deserve same human rights as others?

Isn’t this silence from civil society a form of complicity with the anti-gay mob?

In fact , it seems as though Ivorian civil society is pleased with the misfortunes of the association led by Touré Claver.  Here and there, one can hear approving comments such as “That was well done” and “They got what they deserved.”

It’s easy to see that in Ivory Coast, Alternative CI cannot count on many people defending the right of LGBT people to live in peace.

It’s not just our legislators and ordinary citizens who need to be sensitized to the importance of LGBT rights and tolerance of a diversity of sexual orientation. Civil society needs that too.

Ivory Coast resident Jean Marc Yao is a human rights defender who works at the Interafrican Association for the Promotion of Health and Human Rights (IPSDH). He is an anthropologist with a Ph.D. in philosophy, a member of the Ivorian League of Human Rights (LIDHO) and a consultant at the Association of Midwives of Côte d’Ivoire (ASF-CI) and at Alternative Côte d’Ivoire.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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