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Nigeria poised to pass sweeping anti-gay laws

by Peter Tatchell for UKGayNews

LONDON, January 19, 2007 – Nigeria's legislature is considering a law that would be among the world's most sweeping and repressive anti-gay measures. The bill would impose harsh prison penalties for any sort of conduct deemed in violation of the law, including the expression of affection between two people of the same gender in an e-mail or written correspondence.

Activists, working with GLBT and human rights groups worldwide, are taking action to press the Nigerian government to not pass the law, claiming it is in violation of international human rights.

The bill, currently being debated in the Nigerian National Assembly, is focused on the prohibition of same-sex marriages. In addition to provisions banning the participation in or attendance of events celebrating gay relationships, the law bans almost every expression, affirmation and celebration of gay identity and sexuality, and prohibits the provision of sympathetic advice and welfare support to lesbians and gay men.

Violations would be punished with an automatic five year jail sentence.

Expressions of same-sex love in letters or email to be outlawed

The measure is expected to be adopted during the next month and would outlaw membership of a gay group, attending a gay meeting or protest, advocating gay equality, donating money to a gay organization, hosting or visiting a gay website, the publication or possession of gay safer sex advice, renting or selling a property to a gay couple, expressions of same-sex love in letters or emails, attending a same-sex marriage or blessing ceremony, screening or watching a gay movie, taking or possessing photos of a gay couple, and publishing, selling or loaning a gay book or video. The law would widen Nigeria’s current laws that criminalize any expression, public or private, of homosexuality.

Homosexuality in Nigeria is presently punished with a 14-year jail term under civil law, and by the death penalty in the northern regions of the country that are governed by Sharia law.

The new legislation is backed by the Anglican Church in Nigeria and by its Archbishop, Peter Akinola. The law's provisions also ban gay Christian gatherings, blessings and celebrations.

"This is a ruthless example of how a government chooses to exploit public fear around same-sex marriage to target other aspects of gay people's private lives," Paula Ettlebrick, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said. "It is a human rights violation to ban same-sex marriage, but it is an even more obvious violation to prevent people from expressing their affection for members of the same sex. We hope the Nigerian officials follow the international law," she added.

The proposed law, entitled The Prohibition of Relationships Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by Them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith, has been approved by the Federal Executive Council and is now before the National Assembly. Political analysts in Nigeria have indicated the bill is expected to be passed shortly and become law.

Under the bill, a penalty of five years imprisonment would be imposed on any person who “goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex,” or who “performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage,” or who “is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private.”

In January of last year Justice Minister and Attorney-General Chief Bayo Ojo presented the bill to the Federal Executive Council with the support of Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo is pictured above with US President George W. Bush.

Activists: Bill Contravenes International Law

European activists have said the law undermines what they claim to be "fundamental freedoms protected under international law."

Article two of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights states, "every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status."

Article 26 states, "Every individual shall have the duty to respect and consider his fellow beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance." The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Nigeria acceded without reservations in 1993, protects the rights to freedom of expression (article 19), freedom of conscience (article 18), freedom of assembly (article 21), freedom of association (article 22), and affirms the equality of all people before the law and the right to freedom from discrimination (articles 2 and 26).

In the 1994 case of Toonen v Australia, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors the compliance of member states with the ICCPR, ruled that sexual orientation should be understood to be a status protected from discrimination under these ICCPR articles. States cannot therefore legitimately limit the enjoyment of human rights on the basis of sexual orientation.

The UN Human Rights Committee has since urged states to repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality and to also enshrine the prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation into their constitutions or other fundamental laws.


Originally published on Friday January 19, 2007.

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