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Human Rights Organizations Want U.S. Ambassadors to Uganda and Nigeria Recalled Over Anti-Gay Laws

The Human Rights Campaign yesterday called on Secretary of State John Kerry to recall U.S. ambassadors to Uganda and Nigeria in reaction to legislation and oppression of LGBT citizens in those nations.

Via HRC:

Kerry"The Ugandan and Nigerian governments' decisions to treat their LGBT citizens like criminals cannot be accepted as business as usual by the U.S. government. We urge Secretary Kerry to recall both Ambassadors for consultations in Washington to make clear the seriousness of the situation in both countries," said HRC President Chad Griffin.

Last week, a spokesperson for the Ugandan president announced that President Yoweri Museveni is set to sign an archaic anti-LGBT bill into law that was passed by the Uganda parliament last December. The bill, which once included the death penalty, calls for gay Ugandans or anyone "promoting" homosexuality to be jailed -- potentially for life. The passage of the AHB and subsequent approval by Museveni is part of a broader clawback in fundamental freedoms in Uganda over the last several years, particularly regarding freedom of expression, assembly and association. Human rights violations are on the rise and the AHB represents an especially troubling escalation of this trend.

An equally horrific law was signed by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January. The law criminalizes same-sex marriage, punishes homosexuality with jail terms of up to 14 years, and threatens any person who supports or is a member of an LGBT organization with 10 years' imprisonment. Since the law was enacted, Nigerian activists and human rights groups have reported dozens of LGBT individuals have been arrested, many of who work to combat HIV/AIDS in the country. It has also been reported LGBT Nigerians are facing blackmail by the police and mob violence.

Over the weekend, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice reported on Twitter that dialogue with President Museveni urging him to refrain from enacting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB) had proven unproductive. President Barrack Obama also issued a statement condemning the AHB.

International human rights organizations agree in an interview with the AP that the "quiet diplomacy" from the U.S. is not working:

"Quiet diplomacy up to the final moment clearly has failed," said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch.

"We need a better strategy," said Julie Dorf, senior adviser at the Council for Global Equality. "We do believe that our government here in the U.S. needs to ramp up the potential consequences that countries might face for these regressive anti-human rights measures. I have no doubt that President Museveni watched very carefully what happened after President Jonathan signed the Nigeria bill. And the truth is, there wasn't much of a reaction."

Human Rights Watch and the Robert F. Kennedy Center are both calling on the U.S. ambassador to Uganda to be recalled for consultation.

Canada has threatened to cut ties with Uganda over the anti-gay bill, according to an interview with the Canadian ambassador to Uganda published earlier this week.


Kenya May Be Uniquely Ripe for Advances in Gay Rights

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Gay rights activists in Kenya protest Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill.

BY JACOB KUSHNER / GlobalPost

An increasingly supportive church and other signs suggest Kenya may be departing from its neighbors in the region by accepting homosexuality.

NAIROBI, Kenya — For years, homosexuality was as unlawful in Kenya as it was in neighboring Uganda or in Nigeria — countries where anti-gay sentiment is growing.

Kenya’s penal code prescribes up to 14 years in prison for men who commit “acts of gross indecency” with other men or for any person who acts “against the order of nature.” It’s the same maximum sentence that existed in Nigeria, and seven years greater than what was until recently the maximum punishment in Uganda.

Uganda’s parliament passed a law making “aggravated homosexuality” a crime punishable by life imprisonment. The Ugandan president said on Friday that he plans to sign the bill. President Obama on Sunday condemned the move, and warned “such discrimination could harm its relationship with the United States.”

In January, Nigeria’s president signed a law that also orders that homosexuals be imprisoned for life and even makes gatherings of homosexuals illegal, including those held by advocacy or rights organizations. The law has already led to numerous arrests.

But in Kenya no such attempt has been made to reduce legal protections for gays, and many Kenyans seem increasingly willing to accept homosexuality as a fact of life, or to move beyond political posturing over the subject altogether.

WainainaA public discussion of homosexuality surfaced here last month following a Twitter argument between an anti-gay publisher of a prominent law and business journal and a Nairobi professor who defends gay rights. In response to the debate, renowned Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina made headlines when he came out publicly by publishing a short story entitled, "I am a homosexual, mum."

“In Nairobi, Binyavanga is walking around very freely and casually, almost like a hero,” said Tom Odhiambo, a Professor of Literature at the University of Nairobi and editor of a new collection of stories by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Kenyans. “He could not do that in Lagos (Nigeria).”

Last week, a group of gay rights activists released a new book, which brings accounts by gay Kenyans into the public sphere, on the premise that the time is now opportune for Kenyan society to accept homosexuality. Some 250 people crowded into a German cultural institute in Nairobi to launch Invisible: Stories from Kenya’s Queer Community.

Invisible“What this book means for me as a gay Kenyan man is that it brings out the invisible,” said one man who attended the book launch. “I can talk about being a gay man, but there are people who cannot talk about their gayness because they can face serious challenges for that.”

Kevin Mwachiro, the journalist and gay rights activist who edited the book, said the success of a gay film festival held here in 2011 and a high turnout at the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, where homosexuality was discussed, “showed that the space was ripe” for such a book.

“We still have a bloated human rights record, and we still do not treat our women very well. But that five, six percent GDP growth is nothing if people still don’t have the freedom to be themselves,” “Mwachiro said. “Africa is changing. Africa is ripe.”

A standout on a continent that widely views homosexuality as ‘un-African

Africa and the Middle East remain the world’s most LGBT-adverse regions, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center.

Though rarely enforced, the legal punishment for acts of homosexuality in three African countries is death. Homosexuality remains a crime in 38 African nations and “Homophobic attacks and harassment across sub-Saharan Africa are becoming more visible,” according to a report last year by Amnesty International.

The most prominent of these attacks occurred in 2010 in Uganda, which borders Kenya to the west. Two documentary films recently captured how Evangelical Christians from the United States and elsewhere are inspiring anti-gay fervor in Uganda.

“The evangelicals from the West know that that is their window, and they’re using that to promote their anti-homosexual agenda,” said Reverend John Makokha, director of a Kenyan gay rights alliance.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Alleged Gay Men Dragged from Homes in Nigeria, Beaten

Nigeria

Fresh reports of attacks on men perceived to be gay are coming out of Nigeria.

OrazulikeThe AP reports:

A mob armed with wooden clubs and iron bars, screaming that they were going to "cleanse" their neighborhood of gay people, dragged 14 young men from their beds and assaulted them, human rights activists said Saturday.

Four of the victims were marched to a police station, where they allegedly were kicked and punched by police officers who yelled pejoratives at them, said Ifeanyi Orazulike (pictured) of the International Center on Advocacy for the Right to Health.

Police threatened that the men would be incarcerated for 14 years, he said, the maximum prison sentence under Nigeria's new Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, dubbed the "Jail the Gays" law.

AbujaIGLHRC adds:

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has received reports that approximately 10 men, perceived to be gay, were beaten by a mob of some 40 persons in the community of Geshiri near Abuja last night or early this morning. The local police reportedly arrested 5 of the victims of the attack and later released them. Most of the men suffered injuries from the attack and are now in hiding.

The attack is part of what seems to be a recent surge of arrests and vigilante violence against individuals and groups perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). These incidents surfaced after Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan signed a law into effect that not only criminalizes same-sex unions, broadly speaking, but also applies harsh jail sentences to anyone found guilty of directly or indirectly depicting homosexual relations in public or who is in any way linked to the operations of organizations advocating for the human rights of those in same-sex relationships.

“What we see in Nigeria is the sadly predictable breakdown of the rule of law that comes after such an anti-democratic law went into effect,” said Jessica Stern, Executive Director of IGLHRC. “Regardless of what anyone thinks of homosexuality or transgenderism, the state has an obligation to ensure the safety of all Nigerians.”

The AP adds:

Orazulike said he got a panicked email from a colleague who said he was hiding from a mob of 40 people who struck around 1 a.m. Thursday, going from house to house saying their mission was "to cleanse" the area of gays. He said they used pieces of wood and iron to beat up 14 young men. Orazulike said he drove from his home at 4 a.m. Thursday to save the man in Gishiri, a shantytown with mud roads near central Abuja.

Those attacked are in hiding and too scared to speak to reporters, he said, recounting their story.

"They were told 'If you come back, we will kill you.'"

The walls of houses where the men lived have been painted with graffiti declaring "Homosexuals, pack and leave," he said.

The four men brought to the police station were beaten and later released because of lack of evidence.


LGBT Rights: God’s Laws, Nigeria’s Laws

Nigeria

BY PRINCE CHARLES DICKSON / GlobalPost

In a country where religion and culture overwhelmingly condemn LGBT communities, homophobia has become a way to unite the population.

ABUJA, Nigeria — In a country contentiously split among Muslims and Christians, leaders of Nigeria’s mosques and churches are united in their condemnation of same-sex relationships.

So, too, are lawmakers, who’ve criminalized sodomy, civil unions and gay marriages, with a 14-year prison sentence as punishment. In some northern regions, flogging and the death penalty come into play.

JonathanThe Same-Sex Prohibition Act, signed into law on Jan. 7 by President Goodluck Jonathan, criminalizes public displays of affection between same-sex couples and restricts the work of organizations defending gay people and their rights.

“This law criminalizes the lives of gay and lesbian people, but the damage it would cause extends to every single Nigerian,” LGBT activists said. “It undermines basic universal freedoms that Nigerians have long fought to defend and is a throwback to past decades under military rule when civil rights were treated with contempt.”

This new legislation could lead to imprisonment solely for a person’s actual or imputed sexual orientation.

People could face charges for consensual sexual relations in private; advocacy of LGBT rights, or public expression of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And the terms “same-sex marriage” and “civil union” are so broadly defined in the law that they include virtually any form of same-sex cohabitation.

Some activists worry the law is so vague that it "is likely to lead to the arbitrary arrest of gay people, while facilitating extortion and blackmail of vulnerable groups by members of Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt security services.”

Arrests have already been made in several Nigerian states, like Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Oyo. But gay rights activists are becoming more vocal—there are now even churches formed by the LGBT community.

Britain, the United States and other Western nations have threatened to suspend aid to Nigeria. They consider the laws discriminatory and grounded in bigotry and prejudice.

In November, the European Union’s top court ruled that gays and lesbians in countries that outlaw homosexual relations are eligible for asylum. Days later, the Malta Refugees Appeals Board granted asylum to an 18-year-old Nigerian teen.

“The dominant role of religion is widely seen as the root of the country’s homophobic culture,” the board said, quoting from a border agency report. “Punishing gays is one of the few common themes that politicians can promote with equal zest in the mainly Christian south and the largely Muslim north.”

So what is life like for Nigerians who are attracted to people of the same gender? Can they practice their faith in a country where religion and culture overwhelmingly condemn their sexual identities?

As in all repressively homophobic cultures, LGBT people continue to find ways to express and to live out their authentic selves.

They are part of Nigerian society at all levels. Some hold prominent jobs in government, businesses, the military and even as religious leaders.

But it’s not a leap to suggest that the majority keep their sexuality a secret for fear of losing their families, friends, jobs, freedom or even their lives.

To better understand, I interviewed a range of Nigerians from across the country who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight.

IkoyiIn Ikoyia, an upscale suburb of Lagos in southwest Nigeria, I caught up with a gay man who works in finance. He took me to party, where I observed gay men socializing.

“We informally gather for dinner parties, at restaurants and beaches,” the man said.

Wealthy gays in his suburb are said to live more openly than anywhere else in Nigeria. I asked: Did he consider himself both gay and Christian?

He, like many of the gay Nigerians I interviewed, said they haven’t abandoned their faith because of their sexual identity.

“I am a saved Christian and proud gay,” the man who described himself as a Pentecostal Christian told me. But he only said so after some time talking. At first, he reflexively retorted: “My faith is a personal matter. Besides, many people won’t understand.”

He’s right. Christians account for nearly half of Nigeria’s population and all major denominations denounce same-sex intimacy as sinful, at least in their doctrines.

Nigeria’s Anglican bishops are especially vocal. They’ve long threatened to break away from the worldwide Anglican Communion over the issue, most recently at an October conference in Nairobi that drew 331 conservative bishops from across the globe.

The bishops want the United States, Canadian and European members of the Anglican Communion to denounce stances on homosexuality contrary to their own. Canada’s Anglican Church began blessing same-sex couples in 2002, a few months before the US Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay bishop.

OkohMore recently, the Church of England dropped a ban on gay clergy in civil partnerships from becoming bishops. Nicholas Okoh (pictured, right), primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, says the West is ignoring scripture and insisting on imposing its views on other countries.

“They want to push it down everybody’s throat,” he said in March at an ordination service. “And as far as they are concerned, it is a matter of human right. But God’s right is not discussed.”

In Jos, a city in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, a Baptist pastor by the name of Rev. Rumo James told me that homosexuality is affliction and disease for which no compassion should be extended.

"Homosexualism is a virus that degrades the family and its values, corrupts human cohabitation and offends God,” he said. “It eventually leads to social decline.”

Nigeria’s Christian population is Africa’s largest, with 80 million followers, according to the Pew Research Center in the United States. Clergy cite Bible-passages as the God-given reason for their condemnation of same-sex relationships.

Two of the most frequent verses cited are from Leviticus:

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (18:22).

"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (20:13).

But Christians who support same-sex couples say those Old Testament Bible verses are misinterpreted, made obsolete by the New Testament or simply out of touch with modern life.

They also argue that all people, gay and straight, are made in the image of God. Besides, they point out, Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.

A country divided

The level of openness found in Lagos wasn’t as evident just 154 miles west in Benin and elsewhere in Nigeria. For much of the country, it seems that religion, profession, family, the laws and class status factor into how openly members of the LGBT community choose to live.

An architect in Kano who is heterosexual and attends a Methodist Church told me that he has friends who are gay. He said he’d come to terms with their sexual orientations.

“I don’t see myself better than they are,” he said. “I believe that they can practice their faith, even though the Bible condemns it.”

But, he said, he doesn’t want them showing public displays of affection. Nor does he believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children.

“I'm not saying being a gay is good,” he said. “I'm a Christian and I also have a culture that condemns it.”

In northern Nigeria, many people said they were aware of LGBT communities in Kano and Kaduna, but rarely gave them a thought. A Muslim told me that he grew up with some of them.

“The only thing I do not like is that as Muslims, we don’t allow them to pray with us,” he said. “Some of them want to, but you know we can’t allow that.”

AbujaIn Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, I heard a slightly different view.

“I don’t care if a gay person comes to a church or mosque,” a man said. “However, for me, everything is wrong with a union between gay people being called a marriage.”

Ash-Shiekh Muhammad Sani Yahaya, the national chairman of Ulama’u Council of JIBWIS, said Islam condemns homosexuality.

“It is an abomination, it is a crime,” he said. Lesbian relationships aren’t mentioned in the Quran, but that’s not true of gay men. He cited the following verses:

“Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.”

Despite Nigeria’s strict laws, the debate over LGBT rights and same-sex relationships is nowhere near resolution. Nigeria’s gay culture, though largely silent, isn’t going away.

Might the day come when Nigerians respect the rights of their LGBT community and the LGBT community be respectful to those who uphold heterosexual relationships exclusively?

Prince Charles Dickson is a Nigerian journalist. God’s Laws, Nigeria’s Laws is a reportorial for the ICFJ/Henry Luce Reporting Fellowship


Trials of Gay Men in Nigeria Pause Over Fears of Mob Violence

Last week we reported that a violent mob had thrown stones into a Shariah Court in Nigeria where seven suspected gay men had been put on trial.

BauchiThe trial was scheduled to resume yesterday but authorities are now postponing it for fear of another violent outbreak. Another, separate trial of three men has been delayed for the same reasons, AFP reports:

A separate trial of three other suspects at another sharia court in the Tudun Alkali area of the city was also put on hold.

"The trial has been suspended because of the stoning incident in the other court, which we are trying to avoid here", said judge Nuhu Mohammed Dumi.

"The remand notice for the suspects expired today (Tuesday) but we will have to extend it."

Dumi suggested that the new trial date would not be publicised and the suspects brought to court in secret to avoid unrest.

A lawyer defending the three men told their families, who came to request bail, that the men are safer in jail.


Goldie Hawn Talks About Her Handshake with the 'Barbaric' Nigerian President: VIDEO

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Goldie Hawn sat down with HuffPost Live at Davos to talk about how horrified she was when she realized, after posting a photo of a handshake with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to Twitter earlier this week, how "barbaric" his policies toward LGBT people are.

Hawn says she was uninformed about the anti-gay law that Jonathan had recently signed into law and said that the photo "had every right to cause an uproar."

Added Hawn: "It breaks my heart because I have my own personal feelings about this. This is man's inhumanity to man of the first order....It's more than ridiculous, it's barbaric."

Watch the interview, AFTER THE JUMP...

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