Thursday, March 23, 2006

It's a human rights issue!

Today, Human Rights Watch issued a press release for a letter calling for Nigerian President Olusegun to withdraw his legislation (pdf) banning not only gay marriage in Nigeria (even purely religious marriage ceremonies), but also the right to speak and assemble on behalf of homosexuality or homosexuals:
As Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo prepares to visit the United States, he should reaffirm his commitment to the human rights of all Nigerians and withdraw proposed legislation to introduce criminal penalties for same-sex relationships and marriage ceremonies, as well as for public advocacy or associations supporting the rights of lesbian and gay people.

In a letter to President Obasanjo, a coalition of 16 human rights organizations urged him to disavow the bill, which contravenes international law and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights that ensure rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The bill also undermines Nigeria’s struggle to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, said the 16 groups which work in Nigeria and abroad.

"This draconian measure will only intensify prejudice and discrimination based on sexual orientation," said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "The bill criminalizes public expressions of love and any defense of lesbian and gay rights, denying fundamental freedoms that should be enjoyed by all Nigerians." [emphasis mine]
The press release mentions the fact that the bill bans gay marriage, but it places far greater emphasis on the limitations the legislation would place on basic civil rights and freedoms.

The letter itself is important reading:
The broad and sweeping provisions of this proposed legislation could lead to the imprisonment of individuals solely for their actual or imputed sexual orientation in a number of ways, including for consensual sexual relations in private, advocacy of lesbian and gay rights, or public expression of their sexual identity. Anyone imprisoned under this law would be a prisoner of conscience. We urge you to disavow this proposal which contradicts fundamental freedoms under the Nigerian Constitution, international human rights law and standards, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.


Laws criminalizing homosexuality can also act as a licence to torture and ill treatment. By institutionalizing discrimination, they can act as an official incitement to violence against lesbians and gay men in the community as a whole, whether in custody, in prison, on the street or in the home. By stripping a sector of the population of their full rights, they also deprive lesbian and gay victims of human rights violations of access to redress while the abusers are allowed to continue abusing others with impunity.
The physical threat to homosexuals in Nigeria is real. Davis Mac-Iyalla, the director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, a Nigerian Anglican LGBT organization, was arrested in October 2005 and held for two days, after publishing in article in Nigeria's Daily Sun bringing attention to gay Anglicans. Mac-Iyalla and eight of his colleagues had just attended a meeting of Changing Attitude when they were stopped in their car, brought to the Wuse district prison, beaten, and forced to bribe their way out:

At the station they searched Davis’s pocket and discovered his identity card for Changing Attitude. They wanted to know if he was the author of the story in the previous week’s paper. He said that he was. They didn’t comment but took the nine to an open cell, beat Davis again, but never gave a reason.

None of them was allow to communicate with anyone, including members of their families. No one knew where they were and there a lot of confusion outside. They were kept without food and water.

My guess is that Mac-Iyalla and his colleagues would be considered lucky for being held for only two days if the same were to happen today.

Perhaps the possibility of violence against threatened minorities will draw conservative Anglicans in the US (dare I hope that the IRD, AAC, and Anglican Communion Network would join them?) to the right side of the debate. Perhaps they will stop shuffling their feet with Archbishop Akinola, stop complaining about the threat of Shar'iya, and start ending their complicity in overt discrimination. Or perhaps discrimination against Christian converts in Afghanistan is of far greater importance.

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