6 August 2012

Liberia: UN Slams Anti-Gay Law - Says It Violates Human Rights

Photo: IRIN
A gay couple.

The United Nations human rights office has frowned on the recent anti gay bill passed by members of the Liberian Senate which seeks to criminalize homosexual behaviour here.

The UN office expressed fears that the law will negatively impact vulnerable populations in the country.

The legislation, which was passed by the Liberian Senate few weeks ago and is still being considered by the House of Representatives, makes homosexual behaviour a second degree felony for which people can be fined and imprisoned for up to five years.

But the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the proposed legislation would impose penalties for a person who "seduces, encourages, or promotes another person of the same gender to engage into sexual activities."

"We are also concerned about the atmosphere of intimidation and violence against gay and lesbian activists, as well as reports of attacks against them," OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said Friday.

"Such harassment illustrates the difficult, discriminatory environment in which gay rights activists are operating."

Sodomy, voluntary and involuntary, is already a criminal offence under Liberian law. However, Ms. Shamdasani stressed that the proposals under consideration, including one to explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage, could make an already bad situation for lesbian and gay people in Liberia even worse.

"Legislation criminalising homosexuality can have a seriously negative impact, not only on gay and lesbian people, but also on the most vulnerable populations, such as people living with HIV, sex workers, refugees and internally displaced populations, who might be in need of special attention but will not come forward due to the high risk of stigmatisation, discrimination and possible violence," she told a news conference in Geneva.

OHCHR called on Liberia to implement the international human rights treaties that it has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and warned that laws criminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults violate individuals' rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination.

OHCHR comments come few weeks after a gay rights activists said they were starting an online petition calling for President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to lose her Nobel Peace Prize if she signs into law an anti-gay bill criminalizing same sex marriage here. The Anti-Gay Bill which probates same sex marriage is sponsored by Bong County Senior Senator Jewel Howard Taylor.

The Senate's Chairman on Judiciary, Cllr. Joseph Nagbe said the anti-gay bill is second degree felony under the Liberian law, meaning it is a baliable crime and violators can pay lower fees or face minimum imprisonment.

But Coenie Kukkuk of Mr Gay South Africa said on Wednesday that the group wants to hold President Sirleaf to a promise she made to veto any bill on homosexuality, be it legalising it or toughening laws against it. He was quoted as saying the group will campaign for her 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked and the prize money repaid if she signs the bill.

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