Human rights advocates from more than a dozen African countries have issued a call for respect for the human rights of LGBTI people in Africa, a move that builds on a resolution made last year by the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights. The gathering included representatives from Burundi, Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo, which have repressive anti-gay laws.
By Jean Marc Yao
Human rights defenders from 13 countries in Africa met earlier this year in Togo and issued a declaration urging African nations to respect the rights of LGBTI people.
The human rights defenders came from West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo), Central Africa (Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda), Kenya and South Africa. The conference was held Feb. 28 to March 1 in Lomé, the capital and largest city in Togo.
The meeting was organized by AMSHeR (African Men for Sexual Health and Rights) and GISHR (Global Initiative on Sexuality and Human Rights), an initiative of Heartland Alliance. The theme of the meeting was “Sexuality and Human Rights in West and Central Africa.“
The objectives of the meeting were to:
- Provide an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss the challenges of protecting the human rights of LGBTI people; to share best practices and the possibilities offered by their different local, regional and global contexts;
- Enhance understanding of sexuality, culture/religion and human rights among participating activists and representatives of civil society organizations and government agencies responsible for protecting and promoting human rights;
- Generate partnerships and mutual support in preparation for workshops and exchange programs within and between African regions.
After two days of intense work, the participants at the Lomé conference issued the following statement:
Outcome Document from the Regional Consultation
on Human Rights and Sexuality in West and Central Africa
Representatives of civil society organizations and selected national human rights institutions from South Africa, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Senegal and Togo met in Lomé (Togo) from 28 February to 1 March 2015 — at the invitation of the Pan-African coalition African Men for sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR) in collaboration with the Global Initiative for Sexuality and Human Rights of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights (HA/GISHR)– and discussed the protection of human rights against violence, discrimination and other forms of violations of human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity in West and Central Africa.
These discussions enriched participants on the close link between human rights and sexuality, the instances of human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the South African government’s good practice in regard to the protection of human rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBTI) people, the role that should play religious leaders, namely Islam and the Catholic Church, in promoting acceptance and love of the other, and finally on the leadership of some National Human Rights Commissions — such as in Ivory Coast and Kenya — in the promotion and protection of human rights for all without discrimination.
On the other hand, this dialogue also highlighted the challenges of African culture and traditions often erroneously used as an excuse when it comes to eliminating human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity in West and Central Africa, the role that civil society in Africa has played by engaging national, regional and international mechanisms — despite serious threats — in order to get better protection from human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity ; and finally the progress resulting from Resolution 275 adopted at the 55th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, held from 28 April to 12 May  in Luanda, Angola, on “the protection of persons against violence and other violations of human rights based on their real or imputed sexual orientation and gender identity.”
As a result of the discussion and sharing of experiences and good practices, in some instances resulting into capacity-building sessions, the participants:
- Welcome the adoption by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, during its 55th ordinary session held from 28 April to 12 May , of Resolution 275 on “the protection of persons against violence and other violations of human rights based on their real or imputed sexual orientation and gender identity”;
- Note with satisfaction the progress and good practices of protection of people from human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity in accordance with regional and international human rights instruments;
- Emphasize the need to engage a national dialogue between state and non-state actors for the promotion and protection of human rights, including mainstream human rights organizations and those civil society organisations working specifically to end violence and other human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity;
- Take note of the opportunity offered by the current legal and policy reforms in some countries of West and Central Africa and encourage state and non-state stakeholders to engage key players of these reforms for better protection of human rights for all, without discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity;
- Remain nevertheless deeply concerned by the lack of legal and institutional protection of individuals from human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity in most of the states in West and Central Africa.
In light of the above, participants in the regional consultation on sexuality and human rights in West and Central Africa made the following recommendations:
To Member States of the African Union
- To take ownership and implement Resolution 275 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on “the protection of persons against violence and other violations of human rights based on actual or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity”;
To undertake awareness, education and training programmes of key stakeholders such as law enforcement agents, the judiciary, the members of parliaments, health- and rights-related services providers and the general population on the protection of persons from violations of human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity;
To harmonize national legislation and policies with regional and international human rights instruments, in order to guarantee and promote equal protection of human rights without discrimination, the elimination of all laws, policies and practices that, in the name of tradition and culture, are discriminatory and contrary to the African values of “living together”;
To encourage, support and assist national human rights institutions to be more independent in their mandates to promote and protect human rights for all, including for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons (LGBTI).
To mainstream human rights organizations:
- To develop joint programmes and collaborative spaces with organizations working specifically on human rights from gender equality, sexuality and sexual orientation perspectives;
To share knowledge and information on the acceptance of LGBTI persons within families to enable them to achieve full realization of their human rights;
To draw on best practices from the promotion of women’s rights, particularly in the struggle against the cultural practice of female genital mutilation;
To continue engagement with national institutions and other human rights stakeholders through a constructive dialogue to improve local protection from human rights violations based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
To organizations specifically working on sexual and reproductive rights:
- To be more open to other human rights actors and further good cooperation in the common struggle for the respect of the values of “living together” and human rights for all;
To increase and intensify solidarity and collaboration with other human rights movements in order to share more information and carry out joint educational campaigns to promote respect for human rights of all;
To support other non-state actors and human rights defenders by publicly making statements condemning incidences of attack and/or intimidation they face;
To strengthen existing partnerships and support, particularly with organizations and stakeholders working on HIV, equality — including gender equality — and nondiscrimination.
Finally, the participants reiterated their commitment to domestic dialogues for better promotion and protection of human rights for all, without discrimination of any kind, for a united and prosperous Africa.
Lomé, Togo, 1 March 2015
Jean Marc Yao, based in Abijan in Ivory Coast, specializes in LGBT issues at LIDHO and is human rights consultant for Alternative Côte d’Ivoire.
- African Commission to promote LGBTI interests (Nov. 24, 2014, 76crimes.com)
- African Commission backs LGBT rights (May 22, 2014, 76crimes.com)
- African Commission adopts landmark resolution on LGBT rights (May 22, 2014, International Service for Human Rights)
- African Human Rights Commission Adopts Continent’s First Resolution Against Anti-LGBT Violence (BuzzFeed, May 22, 2014)
- Waiting to hear if hard work pays off at African Commission (Oct. 27, 2013, 76crimes.com)