Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)

22 December 2013

Nigeria: LGBT People Face New Threat in Nigeria & Uganda

Photo: Kaytee Riek
Uganda Anti-Gay Bill a set back to the country's HIV/AIDS fight (file photo).

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Suddenly all that stands in the way of further criminalizing homosexual conduct in both Nigeria and Uganda is the signature of Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Yoweri Museveni on bills headed their way.

This past week, in an article reflecting on recent successes and setbacks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people around the world, I wrote: "There have been retrogressive steps in several countries, including Nigeria, and Uganda where new regressive bills have been proposed, although thankfully, to date, none have passed into law."

That can all change with the stroke of a pen.

Nigeria's federal penal code already punishes consensual adult homosexual conduct with up to 14 years in prison. Punishments are even more severe in many northern Nigerian states where Sharia (Islamic law) penal codes criminalize consensual homosexual conduct with caning, imprisonment, or death by stoning. Human rights groups in Nigeria vocally opposed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, passed by the House of Representatives in May 2013 and sent to a "harmonization committee," which finalized the provisions early this week.

If Jonathan signs the bill into law, it will formalize discrimination against LGBT people and have wide-ranging effects on the internationally guaranteed rights to dignity, personal liberty, freedoms of speech, association and assembly, and freedoms of thought, conscience, and religion. The bill is so vaguely worded that virtually any form of same-sex relations are prohibited. The bill, by imposing prison sentences on those who associate with or assist LGBT people, also sends a chilling message to service providers and activists.

That was Tuesday.

On Friday, the Ugandan parliament capped off its year of pushing through a raft of absurd and rights-violating legislation with passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, following on the heels of the Public Order Management Bill and the Anti-Pornography Bill. Under Uganda's existing colonial-era law, a potential life sentence can be imposed on anyone found guilty of "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" (Victorian-era language for same-sex sexual conduct.) It is hard to imagine that this law could have been made worse, but the new Anti-Homosexuality Bill adds a range of harsh provisions including making "promotion of homosexuality" a criminal offense. It is a direct attack on activists and organizations working to defend and promote the human rights of all Ugandans.

What is most sad about this bellicose posturing in the name of "traditional values" is that Uganda's parliament has now strengthened colonial-era laws, accepting them as their own. If anyone is spinning in their grave, it is not Queen Victoria.

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