Homophobic Zimbabwe obstructs anti-Aids workshop

Logo of this year's International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa.
Logo of this year’s International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa.

Zimbabwe officials disrupted a workshop for people most at risk of HIV infections over the weekend, seizing documents at the Harare airport and tearing down an exhibition stand displaying materials they found offensive.

The seizure is just the latest example of government obstruction of Aids fighters’ attempts to provide health information to sexual minorities, who in essence are defined as criminals in 38 African countries and, as a result, have difficulty obtaining health services.

Kene Esom, executive director of the LGBTI group African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR), said the confiscation of most of their materials by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) disrupted the group’s programs, as reported in Zimbabwe’s Newday newspaper.

In addition, according to ZimEye, suspected Zimbabwe security agents pulled down the AMSHeR exhibition stand, which, like the confiscated materials, was prepared for the International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa (ICASA), which runs through Dec. 4. The exhibitors were later allowed to re-erect the display, following protests and lobbying by local and international human rights groups, ZimEye said.

Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council intervened to win government agreement to release materials that had been seized, New Zimbabwe reported.

“There have been some misunderstandings which have since been ironed out,” said Tapiwa Magure, the AIDS Council’s executive director. Zimbabwe tax officials had claimed that AMSHeR would need to pay import tax on the materials for the conference.

Kene Esom, executive director of African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, or AMSHeR. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)
Kene Esom, executive director of African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, or AMSHeR. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Esom commented, “We have attended many conferences of this nature and we have never been required to pay duty on such conference material, especially when you had bid to host the conference.”

The seizure deprived the organizers of AMSHeR’s pre-conference workshop of materials they planned to use during the sessions focusing on key populations at risk of HIV,  Esom said.

Chesterfield Samba, leader of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe  (GALZ) said the government had always exhibited homophobic attitudes to sexual minorities, which is why they are a high-risk population.

“Sex between men is criminalised in Zimbabwe, thus driving them underground and making them difficult to reach with HIV interventions,” he said.

With vehemently anti-gay President Robert Mugabe at the Paris climate conference, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa opened ICASA, making what NewsDay called “a veiled attack on gays and lesbians,” rejecting “attempts to prescribe ‘new rights’ which are contrary to our values, norms, traditions and beliefs.”

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Robert Mugabe (Photo de Wikimedia Commons)

In a petition to Mugabe, who is the president of the African Union,  groups of  conference participants urged Mugabe to respect their rights.

Describing themselves as “African communities of people living with HIV, men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, trans-diverse persons in all our diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity and expression,” they condemned:

  • “Health  systems  that  are  hostile  to  key  populations;  that  are  used  to  arrest  and  detain  us and violate and objectify our bodies and subject us to cruel and degrading treatment. …
  • Continuing  exclusion  from  programs  and  interventions  with  the  excuse  that  ‘they are invisible’, ’there is no evidence’ and ‘they lack capacity.’ “

They also demanded:

  • “That  healthcare  providers  abide  by  the  Hippocratic  oath  by  delivering  quality,  appropriate, non-discriminatory services that respect confidentiality and the needs and choices of the individual.”

For more information about the petition, read the ZimEye article that quotes it in full.

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]


Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Disappointed by Pope, Ugandan activists remain hopeful

Commonwealth: Maybe talk about LGBTI rights in 2018?