East Africa: Minorities Still Face Discrimination Despite Rights Laws

A recent forum held in Kigali that brought together sexual minorities from across the region, including the LGBTI community, concluded that discrimination is still rife. It is also entrenched in cultural biases and indiscriminative laws, which lead to human rights violations.

Representatives from Rwanda said that although the anti-discrimination law is meant to protect them, the reality is different as they are generally ostracised by society.

Pierre Sedi, 39, known and accepted by his family as being gay, was recently attacked at his home in Nyamirambo, in Kigali, by people known to him, who verbally and physically assaulted him. A police report has not resulted in an arrest or legal action.

The LGBTI community said efforts to register their oganisations have been denied."They can't have formal registration due to criminalisation of same-sex relations and many do not expressly frame their advocacy in terms of LGBTI rights when seeking recognition from their governments, and this is a big problem," said Nzovu Job, the head of Human Rights First Rwanda, which organised the forum.

The forum addressed ways in which the community can effectively engage with society and government.

Charles Ngethe, a non-binary Kenyan man who works with Team No Sleep, which supports the LGBTI in Kenyan refugee camps said that the over 1,000 members are increasingly being targeted by fellow refugees and that "protection officers in refugee camps are extremely homophobic."

Although Kenya comes off as being more tolerant of the LGBTI, homophobia and harassment is still evident, and gay sex is still illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison according to the country's Penal Code.

In Burundi, article 568 of the Penal Code criminalises homosexuality. LGBTI from Uganda and Tanzania said their right to association and peaceful assembly is not guaranteed and those who conduct Pride parades are arbitrarily arrested.

The LGBTI community in the region also faces the brunt of the pandemic. Up to 60 percent of the 12,000 LGBTI community in Kigali lost their jobs, according to My Right Alliance, an organisation that works with the community. Many worked in bars, hotels, restaurants and salons and they were the first to be laid off. They were also the first to be targeted since their jobs made it easier for them to live openly as gay.

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