African Commission on Human Rights Passes LGBT Resolution

An African Commission on human rights adopted a resolution pledging to fight for LGBT equality and oppose anti-LGBT laws on the continent.

BY Thom Senzee

June 02 2014 7:08 PM ET

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights passed a resolution last week calling on national leaders on the continent to respect the human rights and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The commission adopted Resolution 275 during its 55th Ordinary Session in late May. Resolution 275 outlines specific goals that African nations should strive to achieve without delay, including the creation of positive environments that protect the safety and reputations of advocates for LGBT equality.

Although the resolution is not legally binding, it does note that commission is "alarmed" and "deeply disturbed" by the increasing instances of anti-LGBT violence and state-sanctioned homophobia fostered by draconian laws like Nigeria and Uganda's "Jail the Gays" legislation, and it reflects the commission's perspective on the following: 

1. Condemns the increasing incidence of violence and other human rights violations, including murder, rape, assault, arbitrary imprisonment and other forms of persecution of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity;

2. Specifically condemns the situation of systematic attacks by State and non-state actors against persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity;

3. Calls on State Parties to ensure that human rights defenders work in an enabling environment that is free of stigma, reprisals or criminal prosecution as a result of their human rights protection activities, including the rights of sexual minorities; and

4. Strongly urges States to end all acts of violence and abuse, whether committed by State or non-state actors, including by enacting and effectively applying appropriate laws prohibiting and punishing all forms of violence including those targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identities, ensuring proper investigation and diligent prosecution of perpetrators, and establishing judicial procedures responsive to the needs of victims. 

The commission includes a representative from Uganda, which enacted a harsh anti-LGBT law early this year that imposes lifetime prison sentences on anyone who has repeated, consensual instances of same-sex sexual contact, provides for penalties anyone who "intends to commit homosexuality," and cracks down on nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits that work with LGBT Africans, including those fighting HIV and AIDS.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights was founded in the mid-1980s and traces its origins back to the days of Africa's decolonization movement of the early 1960s, having grown out of the now-defunct Organization of African Unity.

International human rights groups are lauding the resolution. 

"This resolution is an important step forward in the march toward equality and protection of all Africans' human rights," said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord in a written statement. "In the wake of new legislation under consideration across the continent that would negatively impact sexual minorities, this call to action is a reminder that there are leaders throughout Africa choosing to face this challenge head on. We continue to support their efforts and call on the U.S. government to do the same."

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