U.N. human rights leader to visit anti-gay Nigeria

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, will visit Nigeria this week to meet with leaders who have imposed a harsh new anti-gay law there.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

After the law was signed by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Pillay commented: “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.”

She said she hoped the constitutionality of the law would soon be reviewed by Nigeria’s Supreme Court.

“Rights to privacy and non-discrimination, rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. This law undermines all of them,” she said.

The U.N. human rights office announced her visit, which is at the invitation of the Nigerian government:

UN human rights chief to visit Nigeria, 11-14 March 2014

GENEVA (10 March 2014) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will conduct an official visit to Nigeria from 11 to 14 March 2014, at the invitation of the Government of Nigeria. It is the first such visit to Nigeria by any UN High Commissioner for Human Rights since the Office was created 20 years ago.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (Photo by Ricardo Stuckert via Wikimedia Commons)
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (Photo by Ricardo Stuckert via Wikimedia Commons)

During her visit, Pillay plans to meet President Goodluck Jonathan as well as the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice and Women Affairs and Social Development, and other senior officials in the Government, National Assembly and judiciary. The High Commissioner will also hold meetings with the National Human Rights Commission, civil society organizations, members of the international community and UN agencies.

The aim of the visit is to engage at the highest level with the Government and civil society on the promotion and protection of human rights, and to reaffirm the support of the UN Human Rights Office for their efforts to improve the human rights of all Nigerians. It is also intended to broaden the profile and understanding of human rights in general throughout the country.

At the end of her visit, on Friday 14 March at 11:30 a.m., the High Commissioner will hold a press conference at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja.

The law, which is misleadingly titled the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Law,  threatens 10-year prison terms for anyone who organizes or takes part in a meeting of gay men, apparently including informational meetings about how to avoid HIV infection, as well as anyone who belongs to any organization that could be classified as a “gay organization,” whether it is seeking recognition of human rights for LGBT people, meeting the spiritual needs of LGBT people, or providing health care for LGBT people.

The law also calls for prison sentences of up to 14 years for any Nigerian who enters into a same-sex marriage and up to 10 years to anyone who attends or assists in a same-sex wedding in Nigeria.  Those provisions are extreme, but their actual effect will be limited, because the idea of same-sex marriage has attracted little attention in Nigeria except from the people who fear it.

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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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