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Posts for August, 2014

Uganda’s Attorney General Files Notice of Appeal to Supreme Court to Reinstate Anti-Homosexuality Act

Jim Burroway

August 8th, 2014

Nicholas Opiyo, one of the attorneys for the ten petitioners who succeeded on convincing Uganda’s Constitutional Court to nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act on procedural grounds last Fiday, has tweeteed that the Attorney General of Uganda has made good on his vow to appeal the ruling to the country’s Supreme Court:

Opiyo spoke to TIME magazine about what has and hasn’t changed since the Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down:

Nothing has changed much. The deep sense of homophobia in Uganda remains unchanged. In any case, it’s only been made worse by this ruling, because the debate has been reopened in a more bitter and fierce manner than we’ve seen before. To be positive, certain incidental things that are good will happen because of the ruling. First, individuals and organizations that have been facing arrest, intimidation or investigation will now have all those cases against them dropped, because the very foundation for these cases has now been declared unlawful. Organizations that have been closed under the [Anti-Homosexuality Act] will now have their operations resume without the fear of the law constricting their work. Even if parliament is resolved, as they are now, to reintroduce the law … they will at least pay attention, some attention to the issues that we have raised in our petition, and perhaps have a somewhat watered down or even—I’m hoping—progressive law in that regard.

This law was one of a couple of instances of morality politics coming into play in Uganda. What do you think the draw is to laws like this in Uganda and across Africa?

There has been a growing influence of American evangelical ideologies in the policies of government in Uganda. The examples are plenty in Uganda—in the HIV/AIDS campaign, Uganda was praised for its response to the HIV/AIDS campaign because it had the message for condom use. When the Christian evangelists got a foothold in influencing government, the policies changed from condom use to abstinence and being faithful. Condoms were “by-the-way;” that was the influence of what we call in Uganda people who are saved. If you look at the laws that have passed since then, whether it is a media law or an NGO law, it has a strong element of public morality. That’s new, what seems to be in my view, a moralization of the legislation process. They have a strong foothold in government mainly because the Pentecostal movement is a big movement. They have numbers, they have young people, and they have a huge following. Politicians like numbers.

MP Fox Odoi Oywelowo, one of the ten named petitioners to Uganda’s Constitutional Court, has criticized AHA supporters for petitioning Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to circumvent Parliament’s rules again and call for a snap vote on the law without formally reintroducing it in Parliament and following the normal procedures for passing a bill:

A day earlier, well-respected journalist Andrew Mwenda, who was also one of the petitioners, appeared on an NTV Uganda talk show to talk about the Anti-Homosexuality Act in a global context:

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama with Uganda President Yoweri Museveni

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama with Uganda President Yoweri Museveni

Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper, reports that the Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom and the U.S. are resuming foreign aid to Uganda. And just four days after the court nullified the law, President Barack Obama and the First Lady welcomed Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for a White House dinner during a three-day summit of 50 African heads of state in Washington, D.C. The photo of the three, which was released by the State Department, drew criticisms from human rights advocates:

“Rolling out the literal red carpet for some of Africa’s longest serving dictators that clearly do not respect the fundamental human rights of their citizens will always paint an unfortunate picture of the U.S. and our relationship with the continent,” Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “It provides easy ammunition to critics who claim the U.S. is only interested in working with those who lend a hand in the fight against terrorism, like Uganda, or those who sit on vast oil reserves, as in Nigeria.”

Nikki Mawanda, a transgender advocate from Uganda who is currently seeking asylum in the U.S., also questioned Obama’s decision to invite Museveni to the White House. “It’s basically beyond proper,” Mawanda told the Blade on Thursday. “It shows us the president is very comfortable with what Museveni is doing and basically they can sit and mingle.”

Also attending the White House dinner were:

  • Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who signed a similarly draconian anti-gay law last January.
  • Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who once threatened to “cut off the head” of any LGBT person he found in his country.
  • Cameroonian President Paul Biya and his wife. Cameroon has conducted several roundups of LGBT people over the past several years. Eric Ohena Lembemb, an LGBT rights advocate, was found tortured and murdered in his home in 2013.
  • Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Maurtiania imposes the death penalty for those convicted of consensual same-sex relationships.

Google Doodles the Rainbow for Sochi

Jim Burroway

February 6th, 2014

If you go to the Google search page, you’ll see this Google Doodle in place of Google’s logo in honor of the Sochi Olympics, which officially opens tomorrow. In case anyone somehow misses Google’s message in the graphic, they helpfully quote from the Olympi charter:

 The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” –Olympic Charter

This appears to be going on Google’s pages worldwide, including such anti-gay hot spots as Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, GhanaJamaica, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and, most importantly right now, Russia, where Google is likely violating that country’s “anti-propaganda” law.

 
Meanwhile, Britain’s Channel 4 is rebranding its during the duration of the Olympics by dressing its logo in Rainbow colors. And tomorrow, just as the opening ceremonies air on BBC2, Channel 4 will counter with the television debut of its “Gay Mountain” ad campaign:

The tongue-in-cheek ad, which will run for a week, features a “bear” cabaret act singing a song which features lyrics including “good luck gays, on gay mountain”. Using a play on the term “out”, denoting when a person declares publicly that they are gay, the TV ad runs with the strapline “good luck to everyone out in Sochi”.

“This is a typically Channel 4 way of celebrating the start of the Winter Games and showing our support to all of the athletes out in Sochi, gay or straight,” said the Channel 4 chief marketing and communications officer, Dan Brooke.

Something tells me you’re not gonna see anything like this on NBC:

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Note to Reporters: Nigeria Did Not “Ban” Gay Marriage. Also: The Roundup Begins.

Jim Burroway

January 14th, 2014

Thirty-four U.S. states ban gay marriage. Which means that if you get gay-married, those states will ignore it and pretend like it didn’t happen. They’re not going to give you any of the benefits of marriage and, as a rule, won’t hold you to any of the obligations of marriage. And, crucially, not one of those states that banned gay marriage will throw you or anyone else in jail because you got yourself gay-married. Not one.

Nigerian did not ban gay marriage. It criminalized it, and made it a felony complete with prison terms of up to fourteen years for anyone getting gay-married, gay-civil-unioned, or entering into gay “adult independent relationships, caring partnerships, civil partnerships, civil solidarity pacts, domestic partnerships, reciprocal beneficiary relationships, registered partnerships, significant relationships, stable unions, etc.” — I’m quoting from the law here. And anyone else who “administers, witnesses, abets or aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage” or civil unions or any of the other above arrangements will be named a felon and imprisoned for up to ten years. No marriage “ban” on the face of the earth does all this. This is criminalization.

The new law also criminalizes “registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings,” with a ten years prison penalty. And police have already proved eager to prosecute the new law. The Associated Press reports:

First the police targeted the gay men, then tortured them into naming dozens of others who now are being hunted down, human rights activists said Tuesday, warning that such persecution will rise under a new Nigerian law.

The men’s alleged crime? Belonging to a gay organization. The punishment? Up to 10 years in jail under the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which has elicited international condemnation for criminalizing gay marriage, gay organizations and anyone working with or promoting them.

Police arrested four men over the Christmas holidays, beat them and tortured them into giving up names of other gay men. Since then, police have arrested thirty-eight and are looking for 168 more. Undoubtedly they will be pressed to give up more names, and you can see how this can snowball into a pretty major pogrom in no time. In the best case scenario, other more “benign” members of the police force in the notoriously corrupt nation see the new law as yet another opportunity for a shakedown:

Olumide Makanjuola said lawyers for his Initiative For Equality in Nigeria are backing lawsuits of several homosexuals arrested by police without cause. He said police regularly and illegally inspect the cell phones of gay suspects, then send text messages to lure others.

Then the men or women are told they will be charged and their sexual preferences exposed unless they pay bribes. “Some pay 5,000, some 10,000 naira ($30 to $60). Even though they have done nothing wrong, people are scared, people are afraid that even worse things will happen,” Makanjuola said in a recent AP interview.

NGOs in the reproductive health and HIV/AIDS fields fear a massive setback in their efforts to reach some of Nigeria’s more vulnerable populations.

Report: Nigerian President Signs Anti-Gay Bill Into Law

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2014

A Nigerian news outlet is reporting that President Goodluck Jonathan has signed into law a wide-ranging bill which not only criminalizes same sex marriage, but all cohabitation, meetings, gatherings and advocacy by or on behalf of gay people in the country:

The assent to the bill was devoid of fanfare to reduce diplomatic tension, which it may likely attract.

Some foreign embassies were shocked by the development leading to ‘curious’ inquiries from the Federal Government. Despite the inquiries, the Federal Government said there was no going back.

The signed bill says the gays, lesbians in Nigeria will risk a 14-year jail term if they do not retrace their steps and renounce such marriage.

Also, any person who operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations directly or indirectly will earn 10-year imprisonment. Those who administer witness, abet or aid the solemnisation of a same sex marriage are going to bag 10-year jail term.

The bill was quietly signed on January 7. The Nation has more details about the bill itself:

According to some abstracts, obtained by The Nation, the Act reads:

“A marriage contract or civil union entered into between persons of same sex: (a) is prohibited in Nigeria; and (b) shall not be recognized as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage.

The Act also stipulates the volume of the sanctions awaiting the violators of the new law.

“A person who enters into a same sex marriage contract or civil union commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 14 years imprisonment.

“A person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations directly or indirectly makes public show of dame sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

“A person or group of persons who administers, witnesses, abets or aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage or civil union of supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

“The High Court of a State or of the Federal Capital Territory shall have jurisdiction to entertain matters raiding from the breach of the provisions of this Act.”

As we noted earlier, the bill also broadly defined “civil union:”

“Civil Union” means any arrangement between persons of the same sex to live together as sex partners, and shall include such descriptions as adult independent relationships, caring partnerships, civil partnerships, civil solidarity pacts, domestic partnerships, reciprocal beneficiary relationships, registered partnerships, significant relationships, stable unions, etc.

In other words, any two adults living together can reasonably be accused of violating the law and being subject to spending the next fourteen years in prison.

Nigeria House of Representatives Passes Anti-Marriage, Anti-Advocacy Bill

Jim Burroway

May 30th, 2013

Nigeria’s draconian legislation which not only criminalizes same-sex marriage and all other forms of domestic arrangements and even displays of affection, but also outlaws all advocacy on behalf of LGBT people, has passed the lower House of Representatives last Thursday, according to the Associated Press:

Lawmakers in Nigeria passed a bill Thursday banning gay marriage and outlawing anyone from forming organizations supporting gay rights, setting prison terms of up to 14 years for offenders.

Nigeria’s House of Representatives approved the bill in a voice vote, likely sending it immediately  t0 President Goodluck Jonathan for him to potentially sign into law in Africa’s most populous nation. Whether he will approve it remains unclear, and both the United States and the United Kingdom raised concerns over a measure that could put foreign funding for AIDS and HIV outreach programs in jeopardy.

The bill was introduced in Nigeria’s Senate in September 2011. After several more provisions were added and penalties increased, it sailed through in December. (The full text of the bill, as passed by the Senate, is available here.) The Senate’s bill doesn’t just ban same-sex marriage; it imposes criminal penalties of ten to fourteen years imprisonment for entering into a marriage or civil union, conducting or witnessing a ceremony, or even performing a public display of affection. It also imposes criminal penalties for anyone who would provide services or advocacy on behalf of gay people. The relevant portions of the bill as passed by the Senate include:

5. (1) Persons who entered into a same sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years imprisonment.

(2) Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisation, or directly or indirectly make public show of same sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commit an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

(3) Any person or group of persons that witness, abet and aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage or civil union, or supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organisations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

The bill also broadly defined “civil union:”

“Civil Union” means any arrangement between persons of the same sex to live together as sex partners, and shall include such descriptions as adult independent relationships, caring partnerships, civil partnerships, civil solidarity pacts, domestic partnerships, reciprocal beneficiary relationships, registered partnerships, significant relationships, stable unions, etc.

In other words, any two adults living together can reasonably be accused of violating the law and being subject to spending the next fourteen years in prison.

It is not clear whether the House version of the bill is identical to the Senate version. If it is, then the bill’s next stop would be the desk of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Nigeria Takes Its Turn

Jim Burroway

November 13th, 2012

Nigeria is rife with a corruption so massive that despite being the world’s forteenth largest oil producer making it 31st in the world in GDP, its per-capita income is just under $3,000 per year. It is fighting a violent insurgency by the Islamist group Boko Haram which threatens to divide the country and plunge it into civil war. Which can mean only one thing. It’s time to go after the gays again:

Lawmakers moved a step closer Tuesday to approving a bill that would harshly crack down on gay rights, including banning same-sex marriage and public displays of affection between homosexual couples.

The bill which has already been approved by the Senate passed a second reading in the House of Representatives with an unanimous vote and will now see a clause-by-clause review in the chamber at an undetermined date.

In September 2011, a bill which would ostensibly ban same-sex marriage was introduced in the Senate. After several more provisions were added and penalties increased, it sailed through in December. As passed by the Senate, the bill doesn’t just ban same-sex marriage. It imposes criminial penalties of ten to fourteen years imprisonment for entering into a marriage or civil union, conducting or witnessing a ceremony, or even performing a public display of affection. It also, by the way, just happens to criminalize any organization which would provide services or advocacy on behalf of gay people. The relevant portions of the bill as passed by the Senate include:

5. (1) Persons who entered into a same sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years imprisonment.

(2) Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisation, or directly or indirectly make public show of same sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commit an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

(3) Any person or group of persons that witness, abet and aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage or civil union, or supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organisations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

The full text of the bill is here. A final vote in the House would come after a clause-by-clause review. If passed, it would then go to President Goodluck Jonathan for his signature.

This Anglican Bishop Wants You To Rot In Jail

Jim Burroway

December 10th, 2011

Archbishop Peter Akinola, retired Anglican Primate of the Church of Nigeria, has enthusiastically endorsed Nigeria’s anti-gay bill which would impose criminal penalties on same-sex unions and LGBT gatherings. Akinola told Nigeria’s Guardian that the Nigerian government should reject warnings from Britain and the United States that efforts to deny basic human rights to LGBT people would have international implications:

Since its passage by the Senate, Nigeria has received strong criticisms and warnings from the British, Canadian and the United States of America governments, which have individually threatened to withdraw aids and other forms of assistance to Nigeria, if the law is allowed to exist.

But Akinola, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, urged President Jonathan not to succumb to such pressure, but rather tow the path of God by assenting to the bill.

Akinola, who described the bill as “a new orientation towards transformation and reformation of Nigeria from its moral decadence into a new platform of sound morality,” said President Jonathan would be going against God’s will for Nigeria if he refused to sign the controversial bill into law.

He stated that Nigeria needs such law to preserve the nation’s sacred moral heritage for national development.

Akinola has been the most visible leader of a worldwide revolt of conservative Anglicans against the elevation of the openly gay Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. Akinola has actively courted dissident American Episcopal Churches to leave the Episcopal Church in America and organize themselves under his leadership In 2007, Akinola traveled to Virginia to install Martyn Minns as bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), an organization that Akinola established with conservative American Episcopalians. In doing so, he defied Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church.

The bill which Akinola endorses so enthusiastically would penalize anyone entering into a same-sex marriage or any other arrangement “for other purposes of same sexual relationship” with imprisonment for fourteen years. It also provides for ten years imprisonment for anyone showing displays of affection “directly or indirectly,” an incredibly vague and ambiguous phrase which could be interpreted in any number of unpredictable ways. In addition, anyone who “supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organisations, processions or meetings in Nigeria” will be subjected to a ten year term. By outlawing even ad hoc meetings in which topics concerning gay people are discussed, Nigeria proposes to obliterate the rights of free assembly and speech for all Nigerians and visitors, including health care workers and organizations. It would even effectively ban coordination of monitoring human rights violations from within Nigeria. The bill passed the Nigerian Senate in late November and has reportedly been introduced in the House of Representatives, where one lawmaker threatened to increase the penalties further.

Unsurprisingly, so-called “ex-gay” theories have also entered the debate in Nigeria. The Guardian quotes from Felix Jovi Ehwarieme, who is described as an adjunct professor of scientific theology and Biblical history at the United Bible University in Lagos. Ehwarieme has a rather odd theory about homosexuality, tracing it to “excessive masturbation”:

“An average male child has masturbated at one stage of his life or the other. If this behaviour were not controlled, it would lead to lack of interest in the opposite sex. This often happens in the subconscious mind, so that by the time one grows into it, one would not know why one hates the opposite sex. This is because when one masturbates, one may have practiced it with other male children,” he argued.

“So, by the time they are qualified to have sexual relations, they just discover that they have something that satisfies them more than natural sex.”

According to Ehwarieme, there is a role played by hormones in masturbation. “One cannot just masturbate without thinking of the opposite sex. When you masturbate, you have a picture in mind of someone you like, a woman, definitely,” he said.

“By the time you masturbate and ejaculate, you end it that way. After a period, if the woman you have in mind is given to you and you find that you do not enjoy her, you would still want to go back to masturbation, because something else has replaced original process.”

“The problem with homosexuals is that they do not know how they become what they are,” he surmised.

Statements from an Islamic professor, Dr. Ishaq Akintola, demonstrates that nothing can united Christians and Muslims in that deeply divided country more than their shared hatred for gay people. Akintola told the Guardian:

“We urge President Goodluck Jonathan to quickly sign the Bill into law once it is passed by the House of Representatives before these Western countries drag Nigeria down with them. He must not succumb to the intimidation of neo-imperialists.”

“We assure the President that Nigerians are united on this matter. We are solidly behind him and the National Assembly,” Akinola added. “There have always been hidden agenda in foreign aid. Once colonialist, always a colonialist!”

The Guardian also quotes from a Catholic chaplain and a Lagos criminology professor supporting the bill. Only at the very end of the article is there a paragraph devoted to criticism of the bill.

Marriage Criminalization Bill Introduced In Nigerian House

Jim Burroway

December 7th, 2011

It took barely twenty-four hours for Nigeria’s House of Representatives to register its answer to the Obama Administration’s pledge to become more vigorous in protecting the human rights of LGBT people abroad. The Associated Press reports that the bill which imposes prison terms for gay unions of all stripes which passed the Nigerian Senate last week has was introduced into the nation’s lower house today:

A spokesman for the House of Representatives and a cabinet minister in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer were defiant in the face of Western criticism over the measure. “We have a culture. We have religious beliefs and we have a tradition. We are black people. We are not white,” said Zakari Mohammed, who is also a lawmaker.

He said same-sex marriage “is alien to our culture and we can never give it a chance. So if (Western nations) will hold their aid to us, to hell with them.”

Information Minister Labaran Maku said “we reserve the right to make our laws without apologies to other countries.”

President Barack Obama’s actions and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech seems to have touched off a particular anger, with one lawmaker vowing to up the ante:

Mohammed vowed lawmakers would proscribe even tougher penalties than those proposed so far. He said “to hell with the super powers if they are for gay marriages.”

When the anti-gay bill was first introduced in the Senate, it contained a three-year prison term for couples who enter into a same-sex marriage or any other arrangement  “for other purposes of same sexual relationship.” It also included fines for “witnesses, abet and aids the solemnization of a same gender marriage contract.”

 But by the time the measure finally passed last week, the penalties were substantially increased. The defined unions being outlawed were broadened considerably and the penalty was increased to fourteen years in a Nigerian prison, and the fines for supporting such a union were replaced with ten years imprisonment.

And that’s not all. New crimes were also added. “Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisation, or directly or indirectly make public show of same sex amorous relationship” is now subject to ten years imprisonment. The same penalty applies to anyone who “supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organisations, processions or meetings in Nigeria.” What tougher penalties could be added to the bill is anybody’s guess.

Press Coverage of Obama’s LGBT Human Rights Policy Was Muted

Jim Burroway

December 7th, 2011

ThinkProgress found that yesterday’s announcements by the Obama Administration that American international agencies would use their resources to promote human rights for LGBT people worldwide was barely mentioned on American television. It’s getting a bit more play in the newspapers, but since fewer people are getting their news from newspapers, I wonder whether this is something that has, so far, slipped right past most Americans as they go about their days.

In Africa as well, yesterday’s announcement has been met mostly with silence  so far, although it generally takes a day or two before stories like this percolate through the press. Neither Uganda’s independent Daily Monitor nor the pro-government New Vision mentioned the story, although Daily Monitor does cover a talk by U.S. Ambassador Jerry Lanier urging Uganda to stand on its own economically, citing hard economic times in the U.S. which may result in lower levels of aid. Kenya’s Daily Nation, which is owned by the same media company as Uganda’s Daily Monitor, also didn’t cover the story. Neither did The Standard.

In Nigeria, where the country’s Senate recently passed a bill which would impose prison sentences for gay relationships and LGBT advocacy, a quick look at the Nigerian Tribune, Daily Sun, Vanguard, and Guardian revealed no mention of the story. The Nation carried a brief mention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech in Geneva. That story was pretty straightforward and was limited to quotes from Clinton’s speech. Punch, which I suspect may be a tabloid, although it’s articles are much more “newsy” than a typical tabloid, carried more thorough coverage of the Obama Administration’s policy, which Punch said “signposted the likelihood of a diplomatic showdown between Nigeria and the US, against the backdrop of last week’s passage of an anti-LGBT bill by the Senate.”  Punch asked Bola Akinterinwa of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs how the new initiative might affect diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Nigeria. Here’s Punch’s description of that exchange:

He described the bill as part of the country’s ‘municipal law’ which he said was different from international law.

According him, the municipal laws of a country are meant to be obeyed by all agencies and persons residing in the country where such laws are in operation. He said anybody, including foreign envoys, who contravenes the municipal laws can be convicted.

He said, “There is no problem there at all. First of all America has laws, Nigeria has laws. Those laws constitute what they call municipal laws. Municipal laws are quite different from international laws. International laws are also referred to as law of nations. The International law is the one governing all the nations of the world, whereas the municiapal laws govern the affairs of each country.

“If Obama is asking US agencies to promote gay rights or lesbian rights, they can do so. There is no problem as long as they will not infringe on the municipal law of their host countries. If they do, they will be tried based on the municipal law and they will be guilty.”

Senate leader Victor Ndoma-Egba also declared, “Nigeria is an independent nation; we are a sovereign state. We have our own values. We are not going to tie our indigenous values with the values to other nations.” He added, “How many states in the US have legalised same sex marriage? Why can’t they start from inside their own country before going out to other countries?”

In Malawi, which gained international attention when they convicted and later pardoned a same-sex couple for undergoing a traditional engagement ceremony, The Nyasa Times covered the story with a provocative photo of a “lesbian kiss.” Malawi has already suffered a cut in British aid last summer over a diplomatic row when the British ambassador criticized Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika for his increasingly autocratic actions. The Nyasa Times said that the Malawi President “defends Malawi laws for the criminalisation of sexual orientation when he adopted Zimbabwean President  Robert Mugabe’s lingo, describing gays as worse than dogs.”

The Times in Johannesburg carried a very comprehensive story in its paper this morning, including quotes from Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen and other U.S. LGBT advocates.

US Pushes Hard on LGBT Rights Around the World

Jim Burroway

December 6th, 2011

The Obama administration has issued a flurry of documents and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a groundbreaking speech on the need for protecting the human rights of LGBT people around the world. It began this morning with the White House memorandum directing American international agencies to take action in countries where LGBT abuses are taking place. That was followed by fact sheets from the White House and the State Department outlining the new policies as well as past accomplishments. Of particular interest is the State Department’s description of its engagement in Uganda over concerns about the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill:

Alongside Ugandan civil society’s strong and sustained outreach to parliamentarians and the Uganda Human Rights Commission, and advocacy of other governments, U.S. Government advocacy against Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill established a precedent for the United States, the international donor community and civil society to collaborate to counter efforts to criminalize same-sex conduct. [Emphasis mine]

While activities in Uganda are mentioned, Africa was not alone in receiving the State Department’s attention over the past few years. Also mentioned are Jamaica, Slovakia, Indonesia, Guinea, Serbia, and India. Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton gave what has been described as a groundbreaking speech in Geneva in advance of Human Rights Day this Saturday. I wasn’t able to see the speech and hope to have the transcript as soon as possible. (Update: It’s here, and it’s a doozy.)

It remains to be seen how the actions today will be reported in the popular media and what the response will be in countries which stand to be affected by today’s announcements. But past events does give us a clue as to how today’s developments are likely to be received in world capitals where LGBT persecution is either official policy or the social norm. Russia had earlier denounced American diplomatic protests over a proposed bill in St. Petersburg which would prohibit LGBT advocacy in public, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak followed that with a suggestion that the St. Petersburg proposal could be made a federal law. In Africa, following comments from British Prime Minister David Cameron warning that countries which prosecute LGBT people could see their foreign aid cut (a warning that was later modified to say that the aid would be redirected to NGO’s instead), African leaders, including those who oppose LGBT oppression, warned that the statement could backfire on efforts to head off legislation which would severely increase penalties against LGBT people. African LGBT advocates also warn that if changes in foreign funding force cutbacks in governmental services, the local LGBT communities would feel the brunt of the blame, making the work of LGBT advocacy much more difficult in countries where the prevailing belief is that homosexuality is a Western import.

None of that is to say that these pronouncements from the US and IK aren’t unwarranted or improper. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and as they say in Africa, when elephants fight, the grass suffers. Since Cameron’s announcement in October, there has been a measurable uptick on African newspaper articles mentioning homosexuality popping up through November and December in my Google Alerts for the continent, and those articles are rarely positive. The Ugandan Parliament revived the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by the end of October, and the Nigerian Senate greatly increased the penalties in a bill which makes same-sex unions a felony in November.

Now to be clear, neither action was a response to Britain’s announcement; both events almost certainly have occurred anyway. But if anyone had been inclined to speak out against those two bills before, the current politics now makes that all but impossible. No African politician has ever lost influence by standing up to “meddling” by foreign and (especially) colonial powers. And no politician anywhere in the world — east, west, north or south — has survived the taint of being accused of colluding with foreign governments, no  matter how manifestly untrue, unjust, or an irrelevant distraction those accusations may be.

In the short term, these announcements are likely to exacerbate the situation. That is just a simple fact of life, but pointing that out isn’t to say that this is not a good change in direction. It is merely to say that we will need to be forewarned and prepared for the inevitable reaction which will come of it. Fasten your seat belts.

Nigerian Television on the Senate’s Passage of the Bill Criminalizing LGBT Relationships and Advocacy

Jim Burroway

December 6th, 2011

Watch it now while you can. I don’t know how long Channels Television keeps their videos online.

Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper has been carrying numerous stories over the past two months, in a possible indication of increased attention the subject has gained in the country. Here is a roundup of reactions from religious leaders, including the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. The Jigawa State Agency for the Control of AIDS also backs the bill. Two weeks before the Nigerian Senate passed the bill, Nigeria’s Anglican Primate, Nicholas Okoh, condemned violence, bloodshed, terrorism and LGBT people, virtually in the same breath, and denounced the threat by British Prime Minister David Cameron to reduce aid to nations which persecute homosexuality.

In fact, it would appear that Cameron’s threat may well have provoked a backlash in Nigeria leading to the more severe measures being added to the bill. Following the bill’s passage in the Senate, the chamber’s president, David Mark, declared, “It is unfair to tie whatever assistance or aide to Nigeria to the laws we make in the over interest of our citizens otherwise we are tempted to believe that such assistance comes with ulterior motives. If the assistance is aimed at mortgaging our future, values, custom and ways of life, then they should as well keep their assistance.’’

Here It Is: Nigeria’s Updated Proposal To Imprison Same-Sex Couples and LGBT Advocates

Jim Burroway

December 5th, 2011

Nigeria's SB 05, a bill which would criminalize same-sex relationships and LGBT advocacy, as passed by the Senate. (Click to download, PDF: 1.3MB/4 pages.)

A copy of the revised bill criminalizing all same-sex relationships, along with all LGBT advocacy and defense of LGBT persons, which passed the Nigerian Senate on November 29, was posted online by Paul Canning. You can also download an OCR PDF here (PDF: 1.3MB/4 pages). It should be noted that this bill goes way beyond merely rendering marriage unavailable to same-sex couples as American bans on same-sex marriage do. It goes much further by making it a felony, mandating a fourteen year prison term for those who attempt to enter into a marriage or any other type of same-sex arrangement, along with a ten year term in a Nigerian prison for anyone who would “witness, abet and aids the solemnization” of such an arrangement.

Comparing the revised text with the original draft reveals several significant changes. The first change begins with the definition of the type of marriage being criminalized. The original draft defined it as follows:

“Same Gender Marriage” means the coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of leaving together as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sexual relationship.

The phrase “for other purposes of same sexual relationship” opened the application of the proposed bill to virtually any two adults living together, regardless of whether they had undergone any sort of solemnization ceremony or registration. However, it appears that Nigerian politicians feared that the point wasn’t driven home as sharply as they would have liked. The new bill has the same definition (although it now defines “Same Sex Marriage” rather than “Same Gender Marriage”), but adds the following definition that also requires the same prison terms:

“Civil Union” means any arrangement between persons of the same sex to live together as sex partners, and shall include such descriptions as adult independent relationships, caring partnerships, civil partnerships, civil solidarity pacts, domestic partnerships, reciprocal beneficiary relationships, registered partnerships, significant relationships, stable unions, etc.

In other words, any two adults living together can reasonably be accused of violating the law and being subject to spending the next fourteen years in prison.

The new bill as passed by the Senate also adds the following penalty:

Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisation, or directly or indirectly make public show of same sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commit an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

The term of ten years imprisonment for anyone showing displays of affection “directly or indirectly” is incredibly vague and ambiguous, and could be interpreted in any number of different and unpredictable ways. In addition, anyone who “supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organisations, processions or meetings in Nigeria” will be subjected to a ten year term. By outlawing even ad hoc meetings in which topics concerning gay people are discussed, Nigeria proposes to obliterate the rights of free assembly and speech for all Nigerians and visitors, including health care workers and organizations. It would even effectively ban coordination of monitoring human rights violations from within Nigeria.

The vague and ambiguous wording in the bill makes it almost impossible to envision any effective limits on what this bill would make criminal. As currently written, the bill casts an impossibly wide net which can potentially ensnare anyone, regardless of sexuality, who has an interest in human rights in the West African nation.

Here is the full text of the 2011 bill as passed by the Nigerian Senate:

A BILL
FOR
AN ACT TO PROHIBIT MARRIAGE OR CIVIL UNION ENTERED INTO BETWEEN PERSONS OF SAME SEX, SOLEMNIZATION OF SAME AND FOR OTHER MATTERS RELATED THEREWITH

BE IT ENACTED by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as follows:
1. (1) Marriage Contract or civil union entered into between persons of same sex is hereby prohibited in Nigeria.

(2) A marriage Contract or civil union entered into between persons of same sex is invalid and illegal and shall not be recognised as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage.

(3) A Marriage Contract or civil union entered into between persons of same sex by virtue a certificate issued by a foreign country shall be void in Nigeria, and any benefits accruing there from by virtue of the certificate shall not be enforced by any court of law in Nigeria.

2. (1) Marriage or civil union entered into between persons of same sex shall not be solemnized in any place of worship either Church or Mosque or any other place or whatsoever called in Nigeria.

(2) No certificate issued to persons of same sex in a marriage or civil union shall be valid in Nigeria.

3. Only marriages contracted between a man and a woman shall be recognized as valid in Nigeria.

4. (1) The Registration of gay clubs, societies and organisations, their sustenance, processions and meetings are hereby prohibited.

(2) The public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly is hereby prohibited.

5. (1) Persons who entered into a same sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years imprisonment.

(2) Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisation, or directly or indirectly make public show of same sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commit an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

(3) Any person or group of persons that witness, abet and aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage or civil union, or supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organisations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

6. The High Court of a State or of the Federal Capital Territory shall have jurisdiction to entertain matters arising from the breach of the provisions of this Bill.

7. In the Bill —

“Court” means High Court of a State or of the Federal Capital Territory.

“Civil Union” means any arrangement between persons of the same sex to live together as sex partners,and shall include such descriptions as adult independent relationships, caring partnerships, civil partnerships, civil solidarity pacts, domestic partnerships, reciprocal beneficiary relationships, registered partnerships, significant relationships, stable unions, etc.

“Marriage” means a legal u.niol1entered into between persons of opposite sex in accordance with the Marriage Act, Islamic Law or Customary Law.

“Same Sex Marriage”means the coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of living together as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sexual relationship.

“Witness” means those who sign as witnesses to the solemnisation of the marriage.

8. This Bill may be cited as Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, 2011

Explanatory Memorandum

This Bill seeks to prohibit marriage or civil union entered into between persons of same sex, and to provide penalties for the solemnisation and witnessing of same thereof.

Alliance Defense Fund Celebrates Pending Criminalization of Consensual Relationships and LGBT Advocacy in Nigeria

Jim Burroway

December 2nd, 2011

Phoenix-based Alliance Defense Fund, which is the legal team defending California’s Proposition 8 in Federal Court, posted this alert on their web site :

Nigeria: Citizens Celebrate Ban of Same-Sex Marriage
All Africa Global Media: Nigerians have continued to celebrate the banning of same-sex marriage by the Senate, commending senators for outlawing what they regard as abnormality and a licence for immorality.

The bill which ADF is so keen on celebrating criminalizes all LGBT advocacy by organizations or individuals with ten years imprisonment. It also demands ten years in a Nigerian prison for anyone caught in a “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly.” That’s in addition to the provisions for fourteen years’ imprisonment for entering into a same-sex marriage or ten years for witnessing, performing, or “aiding/abetting” one.

Remember, these are the same guys who are fighting with everything they have to strip Californians of their right to marry.

[via Alvin McEwen]

Nigerian Human Rights Group Issues Call to Action

Jim Burroway

December 1st, 2011

Nigeria’s Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights (CDSR) has issued a call to action against the Same Gender Marriage Bill, which passed the Nigerian Senate on Monday. The original bill was ostensibly relatively narrow in scope, imposing prison terms for those enter into any form of same-sex union, and fines for those who solemnize or witness it. But the broad wording for the definition of “Same Gender Marriage” which also  included “other purposes of same sexual relationship” worried advocates that the bill would criminalize anyone living together.

As bad as that was, what emerged on Monday was far worse. The Senate’s Committee on Human Rights and Judicial Matters upped the penalties to fourteen years imprisonment for anyone entering into what they broadly defined as a “same gender marriage,” as well as ten years in prison for witnesses or “anyone who helps couples marry.” It also added new penalties making it illegal to register gay clubs or organizations, and criminalized the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly.” Those who violate those provisions would face 10 years imprisonment. The CDSR says that those penalties were added as retaliation for the appearance of human rights advocates at the committee meeting to criticize the bill:

We are extremely concerned and disappointed with the conduct of the public hearing by the Senate Committee on Human Rights and Judicial Matters on the Same Gender Marriage Prohibition Bill 2011, which was held on Monday 31st, October 2011. A number of delegates from the US and EU countries missions in Nigeria attended the public hearing and noted the biased nature of the public hearing, which included name calling and profiling for civil society organizations and individuals activists opposing the bill.

… We fear that not only the Senate did not listen to the civil society expressing their contrariety to the bill, but in an unprecedented decision, it decided to punish the presence of civil society that was against the bill during the public hearing.

The group says that the new bill “brings us back to the most draconian version of the bill proposed in 2006.” (Some background on the 2006 bill can be found here. You can download the Senate version of the 2006 bill from the Nigerian Senate’s web site here (PDF: 144KB/3 pages). ) CDSR also warns that the bill “tries to criminalize homosexuality and any form of LGBT advocacy, seriously affecting freedom of speech, freedom of expression and association with severe criminal provisions,” and calls on the international community to mobilize as they did against the 2006 bill:

We call on ministers of foreign affairs, foreign missions accredited to Nigeria, international organizations and civil society to send formal letters and statements to the Nigerian president, to the presidents of the Senate and the House of Representatives asking them to:

  • Withdraw the bill due to its implications on health, HIV/AIDS and protection of human right.
  • Call on the Nigerian President and the Presidents of the Senate and the House of Assembly to guarantee safety and protection for all human rights defenders and all individuals irrespective of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or religion.
  • Call on the Nigerian government and parliament to respect international human rights law, particularly their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • Call on the Nigerian Government to remove discriminatory laws that criminalize sexuality, gender identity and expression in the federal and other parallel legal systems followed in the country.

We call on heads of governments, ministers of foreign affairs and other relevant officials, foreign missions accredited to Nigeria, presidents of Parliamentary Assemblies to raise their concern in public and in private with their Nigerian counterparts in any possible circumstance, making it clear that if this bill were to be approved Nigeria would place itself outside the community of democratic nations, in a moment in which the country is facing serious internal and external anti-democratic threats.

It Gets Worse: Nigeria’s New Bill Criminalizes Displays of Affection, LGBT Advocacy

Jim Burroway

November 29th, 2011

The earlier report on Nigeria’s new proposed “anti-marriage” law barely scratched the surface in describing the increased penalties of the proposed legislation. The earlier report noted that “Under the measure, couples who marry could face up to 14 years in jail, and witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars.” As bad as that is, a later report from the Associated Press shows that the measure is much worse than just that:

Other additions to the bill include making it illegal to register gay clubs or organizations, as well as criminalizing the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly.” Those who violate those laws would face 10 years imprisonment as well.

…The bill also could target human rights and HIV-prevention programs run by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Nigeria, which has the world’s third-largest population of people living with HIV and AIDS. A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman declined to immediately comment.

The bill, which cleared the Nigerian Senate yesterday, must still earn approval from the lower House of Representatives and be signed by President Goodluck Jonathan before becoming law. That now looks likely. The Guardian notes, “Among rights activists, it has become a grim joke that homophobia is a rare issue that unites the country’s bickering Muslim north and Christian south.”

 The Guardian also identified some of the likely repercussions if that happens:

The new laws will have repercussions well beyond the gay community, said Damian Ugwu, an activist with the Lagos-based Social Justice Advocacy Initiative. Migrants who shared accommodation for economic reasons would be particularly vulnerable, he said. “From what I know of the Nigerian police, they look for every opportunity to extort money. With this bill, they won’t go looking for gay couples in the Sheraton – they’ll go just go around rounding up people who are poor or don’t know their rights,” he said.

In the north, policemen had visited hotels at night to seek out unmarried couples sleeping together. They demanded bribes or threatened to turn them in to the Islamic courts, Ugwu said.

Homosexuality is already criminalized in Nigeria, with a penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment upon conviction. In the half of the country where Sharia Law is in effect, the penalty is death by stoning.

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