Participants at a LGBT rights conference in Brazil
The UN Human Rights Commission held its first session on LGBT violence last March. When the Secretary General called violence against gays and lesbians “a monumental tragedy for those affected – and a stain on our collective conscience,” many Arab and some African nations hastily walked out of the Geneva meeting in protest.
The battle between what is legal and illegal for gays and lesbians is increasingly crossing national boundaries. The wide gulf in agreement over extending rights to LGBT highlights the messy politics over rights — who gets to decide them, and how. On March 15, the European Parliament condemned a pending Nigerian law that once again criminalizes homosexuality. Nigeria already criminalizes homosexuality; this legislation takes the extra step of criminalizing any group found guilty of organizing, operating or supporting gay clubs, organizations and meetings. The bill still needs to pass the House of Representatives to become law, but it has large support within Nigeria. Upon passage in the Senate, Nigerian Senator Baba-Ahmed Yusuf Datti commented on gays and lesbians in Nigeria, saying “such elements in society should be killed.”
But the bill targets more than lesbians and gays, according to groups like the Population Council, a public health organization in Nigeria. If enacted, any organizations peripherally involved with aiding gays and lesbians—-say, HIV/AIDS groups–could be criminalized. “The bill will be harmful to the health and access of services that many of the country’s most vulnerable citizens need,” said Kunle Williams of the Population Council in a statement.
Several other pieces of legislation around the globe are also targeting organizations thought to be affiliated with the LGBT community. A bill criminalizing public speech on LGBT rights was enacted in St. Petersburg, Russia, extending hefty fines to organizations holding events on homosexuality, even outlawing speaking publicly on the subject. Yet another piece pending legislation, this one in Uganda, punishes organizations that “promote or in any way abet homosexuality and related practices,” with a prospective punishment five years in prison.
One commonality between these three pieces of legislation is their vague language. A wide swath of people, organizations or groups could be targeted, but it is hard to tell how far lawmakers will go to prosecute. Will AIDS patients be targeted? Or heads of foreign human rights organizations?
If the Nigerian bill is passed as written, “All HIV/ AIDS work, all human rights work becomes a criminal act,” said Rashidi Williams, a Nigerian LGBT activist said. “The consequences are more than I can enumerate. People will take the law into their own hands, extort, blackmail, rape, and harass.” “The implication of this bill goes far into the Nigerian society, whether you are gay or lesbian or not; it’s about basic human rights,” said Williams.
Similarly, in Uganda a bill that would punish homosexuality with death not only effects the LGBT population, but anyone suspected or accused of homosexuality. “You can throw anyone in jail for anything,” explains the journalist in the below video.
These new pieces of legislation targeting the LGBT community are dangerous particularly because they are so broad. They effect many fundamental rights of all citizens, LGBT or not, including their freedom of expression, right to organize and access to healthcare.