Muslim-majority Zanzibar – an island nation and an important tourist destination on the East African coast – is the latest country to demonstrate homophobia. Zanzibar’s President has given his assent to a Bill passed unanimously by the Zanzibar Parliament. The new law imposes a 25 year prison sentence for men indulging in homosexual acts and 7 years for lesbian acts.
IHEU regrets the homophobia sweeping the African continent, and calls upon governments and international Human Rights institutions to take note of the serious violation of the individual’s right to retain his or her sexual identity and orientation. Homosexual men and women are amongst the most vulnerable groups in Africa. They face immense social prejudice and government harassment.
Like their counterparts in Pakistan and several other Muslim countries where lives could be endangered for being identified as homosexual, in the recent past two Somali women were sentenced to death for “unnatural behavior”. In Egypt, three men were accused of setting up a gay web site and charged by the police – homosexual acts are illegal under the Egyptian penal code. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has described homosexuals as “worse than pigs and dogs”; President Sam Nujoma of Namibia announced a few years ago “the Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality or lesbianism here. Police are ordered to arrest you, deport you and imprison you.”
Acutely aware of the oppressive situation, and in a bid to support the right to sexual autonomy of all individuals, in May 2004, IHEU’s General Assembly, meeting in Kampala, Uganda, passed the following resolution:
[b]”The General Assembly of the International Humanist and Ethical Union meeting in Kampala, Uganda on 27 May 2004 urges all African governments, and especially those of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Zambia, to respect the rights of all people to sexual autonomy and privacy, to eliminate all forms of discrimination against their citizens on grounds of their gender or sexual orientation, and to decriminalize homosexual activity between consenting adults”.[/b]
In June 2004 IHEU communicated this resolution to the Embassies of the African countries named, and urged them to take immediate steps to protect the homosexual populations in their country. Regrettably, no response has been received.
[i]Text of IHEU’s letter[/i]
22 June 2004
I am writing on behalf of the London-based International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU www.iheu.org), an NGO with Consultative Status at the UN, and at the Council of Europe. IHEU also has Consultative status with UNICEF, and maintains operational relations with UNESCO. At these international institutions and elsewhere, IHEU represents its 89 member organisations in 39 countries, and advocates a human-centred approach to social issues and problems.
The IHEU recently organised an International Conference ‘Humanist Visions for Africa’ held in Kampala, Uganda, in May 2004. The conference pledged our unflinching support and moral solidarity to the development, progress and modernisation of Africa. The Conference also noted the urgent need to help African women gain equality and respect in society on a par with men.
In Kampala IHEU also held its General Assembly where we passed the following resolution, which I commend to your, and to the attention of your government.
“The General Assembly of the International Humanist and Ethical Union meeting in Kampala, Uganda on 27 May 2004 urges all African governments, and especially those of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Zambia, to respect the rights of all people to sexual autonomy and privacy, to eliminate all forms of discrimination against their citizens on grounds of their gender or sexual orientation, and to decriminalize homosexual activity between consenting adults”.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, and the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, which set universal standards for Human Rights in all countries guarantee the right to privacy and the right to equal protection of the law to all citizens of a country. Further, Article 28 of the UDHR recognises that “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized”.
As one of the most vulnerable groups in your country, homosexual men and women are exposed to extreme social discrimination and interference in their private lives. As homosexual behaviour between consenting adults is criminalised in your country, they are denied their sexual autonomy and the equal protection of the law which safe guards heterosexual men and women. Apart from the social intolerance, they are subject to permanent harassment by officials and the police.
To be compliant with Article 28 of the UDHR, may we urge your sovereign government to initiate steps to repeal all laws which criminalise homosexuality or discriminate against homosexuals, and to refrain from introducing new discriminatory laws? Such a step in combination with encouragement of tolerance of alternative sexual orientations in society will give a boost to the principle of sexual self-determination, and further the cause of freedom in your country. May I point out that this suggested measure does not imply supporting or preferring one sexual orientation over another – of course, consensual sexual activity is a private affair, and neither needs nor warrants government encouragement, approval or discrimination.
I and my colleagues in the International Humanist as well as Human Rights community look forward to hearing from you about the steps that will be taken by your government to improve the situation in your country. We also look forward to hearing from you on how we may cooperate with you in fulfilling this aim.