Humanists International has called out Nigeria and other states for denying free expression and other rights to LGBTI African citizens.
Supported by the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Humanists International criticized the instrumentalization of “African values” to undermine the rights of LGBTI people.
The statement was Humanist International’s second statement to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) during its 64th session, held in Egypt, and was delivered during a discussion with the Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Mr Lawrence Murugu Mute.
Arguing that more explicit attention needs to be paid to the right to free expression of LGBTI people by the mandate, Humanists International’s Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey pointed out that, “The UN Human Rights Committee has explicitly stated that the right to free expression protects the right to publicly give expression to sexual identity and seek understanding for it.”
She rejected the idea touted by the Nigerian ambassador to the UN, that LGBTI persons are antithetical to the religious and cultural values of the country. Instead, she argued, “Unlike many of their governments, Humanists International members across the continent hold values that do not reject equality for all, that do not accept hate speech from government officials against LGBTI people, and that do not discriminate against people on the grounds of whom they love.
“As African humanists, our members value freedom of expression and equality as foundational rights, whose realisation is essential for the enjoyment and protection of all human rights and all humans. And they refuse to let state representatives monopolize the definition of African values in order to undermine the freedom of expression for all citizens whatever the sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The Special Rapporteur responded to the statement agreeing that everyone has the right to free expression, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity. He is opening a consultation on the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, to which Humanists International informed by its member organizations will contribute its views.
Of the human rights situation for LGBTI people on the continent, Leo Igwe, Chair of Board of Trustees of Humanist Association of Nigeria, said:
“In terms of tackling discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, most African countries are not up to speed. By criminalizing same sex relations and openly making homophobic statements at the UN (in the case of Nigeria), many African countries are in breach of their human rights obligations. They propose interpretations of African values that are out of synch with the African human rights system and the changing times. African states need to be constantly reminded of their duties and obligations including the gaps and contradictions in their positions.”
The presentation of “African values” in opposition to equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, is an ongoing issue at the ACHPR. In August 2018, following a decision by the African Union’s Executive Council, the ACHPR withdrew the observer status of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), an NGO advocating for equality for LGBTI people. The decision came after the African Union Executive Council’s asked the ACHPR to make decisions on observer status in accordance with “fundamental African values, identity and good traditions,” and expressly asking it to withdraw CAL’s status.
O’Casey’s statement follows is in full below:
Item 7: Intersessional Report by Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa
64th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
24 April 2019 – 14 May 2019, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt
This statement is supported by the Humanist Association of Nigeria.
In his Intersession Activity Report to this session, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information argues that “Article 9 of the African Charter should grow with the times and be interpreted in the light of present day conditions, what is referred to as the ‘living instrument’ doctrine.” And that, “Clearly, any interpretation must stay faithful to the ‘original and inherent logic and purpose’ of the standards established in Article 9. At the same time, though, arising interpretation must reflect and respond to changing international legal frameworks and ambient societal situations.”1
We argue that one of those ambient societal situations that requires an evolution in the focus of the right to free expression (and accompanying rights) is the right of LGBTI people, to seek, receive, and impart information on all issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Numerous international mechanisms have already made this link clear. The UN Human Rights Committee has explicitly stated that the right to free expression protects the right to publicly “give expression to […] sexual identity and seek […] understanding for it.”2 The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights has recommended that States “ensure that individuals can exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in safety without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.”3
In addition, Article 28 of the Charter calls on every individual “to respect and consider his fellow beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance.”
Yet, there are states who claim to observe their duties on free expression under Article 9 of the Charter whilst denying the right to expression for their LGBTI citizens.
Indeed, too often we see the suppression of free expression for those seeking to express their sexuality and seeking to defend the equality and human rights of LGBTI people, but complete freedom for those inciting discrimination, hate and violence against them.
Same-sex conduct remains criminalised in many countries, who defend it on the grounds of protecting “African values.” At the UN, for example, Nigerian state representatives have baselessly argued that the rights of LGBTI persons are antithetical to the religious and cultural values of the country; whilst at home refusing to recognise multiple forms of families and non-traditional relations.
Despite Resolution 275 being seminal for the continent by embodying an important rejection of the claims that LGBTI rights are somehow incompatible with “African culture,” it was a coalition of 53 African states led by Botswana who, two years later, attempted to overturn the mandate of the newly appointed UN independent expert charged with investigating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Unlike many of their governments, Humanists International members across the continent hold values that do not reject equality for all, that do not accept hate speech from government officials against LGBTI people, and that do not discriminate against people on the grounds of whom they love.
As African humanists, our members value freedom of expression and equality as foundational rights, whose realisation is essential for the enjoyment and protection of all human rights and all humans. And they refuse to let state representatives monopolise the definition of African values in order to undermine the freedom of expression for all citizens whatever the sexual orientation or gender identity.
We would really welcome the Special Rapporteur’s thoughts on this issue.
- We urge state parties to ensure that all people have a right to freedom of expression and access to information respected, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- We urge state parties to ensure sexual orientation or gender identity is included as a protected characteristic in equality, discrimination and hate speech laws.
- And we urge state parties to tackle the root causes of anti-LGBTI prejudice.
Banner image: Coalition of African Lesbians