LGBTI activists from English-speaking West Africa attending a Human Rights Defenders workshop in Lagos organized by the Coalition of African LesbiansNigeria
Rashidi Williams: Queer Alliance Nigeria
We have trained media personnel in reporting issues of sexual diversity and human rights and involved more LGBTI persons in the movement for the rights of LGBTI in Nigeria. Recently, 40 media professionals were trained by INCRESE (the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights) on reporting issues of sexual diversity and human rights.
This activity will build and sustain alliances to have more positive reports on sexual diversity. Now, we have more LGBTI individuals involved in the movement for the rights of LGBTI in Nigeria.
We have implemented sexual health, sexual diversity, human rights and HIV projects across the country. Consequently, we have improved access to information and HIV service provision to reach more LGBTI individuals. The LGBTI community displayed a courageous attitude at the National Assembly.
Courtesy of TIER, Queer Alliance Nigeria as a young movement has advocated for the rights of Men who have Sex with Men (MSM). Also, in 2010 TIER published a book ‘Unspoken Rights’ which is applicable to the Nigerian context.
In addition, MSM have been identified as a high-risk group and included in the national strategic plan of the National Agency for the Control of Aids.
Opportunities abound for the continued human rights advocacy for LGBT people in Nigeria. The current sexual diversity and human rights project of INCRESE remains a focal point of entry to begin dialogue with both the state and non-state actor in the field of human rights. Other opportunities include research development to identify areas for scaling up services for the LGBT community. Advocacy efforts will lead to expansion of programming targeting LGBT community.
Human rights defence in Nigeria is challenging and discouraging. Irrespective of the country’s being a signatory to regional and international human rights instruments, Nigeria separates human rights into justiciable and non-justiciable (whether or not an issue is liable to be brought before a court for trial). In particular, subsidiary legislation like the penal and criminal codes hinder human rights.
For instance, Section 214 of the Criminal Code Act provides offences against morality as unnatural offences. The application of the penal code has affected program implementation in the Northern part of the country, thus, limiting the LGBT community with limited access to services.
According to a survey carried out by INCRESE between 2007 and 2008, the study found Northern Nigeria has more homosexuals and is most hostile to them. The situation has made it difficult for organization working on issues of sexual minorities to work in the North.
Other challenges such as assault, threats, homophobic attacks, and blackmail are also issues HRDs face in Nigeria. Discourse about gender expressions, identities and sexual orientation are still built on myths and assumptions. Death threats, verbal and physical assaults, misquote and misinterpretation from the media and arrest are some of the issues the LGBT communities face. The work of human rights defenders in Nigeria is threatened as a result of the work they do.
Akeem Yayah, LGBT group
With the coordination from the National Aids Secretariat, the group conducted a Behavioural Sentinel Survey, in which 65 MSM around the country were identified. Support from the Global Fund and the President of the National Aids Supporting Organization strengthened us to form an organization.
In addition to an earlier survey implemented, we carried out a Bio-Behavioural study and have captured 150 MSM.
Despite our achievements, we have faced numerous challenges which include: the Criminalization Act, political statements made by the president and the unwillingness of other stakeholders to accept the LGBT community.
Also, there exists a low knowledge and understanding of LGBT amongst the community, inclusion of lesbians in the group has been difficult, there has been unfriendly behaviour displayed by group members, and a nationalistic concept of the group with regards to leadership. This has resulted in difficulty in getting participants to take part in the survey. Also, unethical principles have evolved for example, a colleague’s personal email was read and the person was fired.
The survey with the National Aids Secretariat will help to identify areas for future programming for MSM in the Gambia thereby creating opportunities for future activities and programs. In moving forward, possible strategies include establishing a formal MSM organization, integrated MSM/HIV and sexual health program targeting MSM, and organizing workshop and seminars on HIV/Aids, STIs and other capacity building programs for the group. In addition, conducting on-going sensitization for LGBT, organizing a study tour in Senegal to learn about best practices and establishing care and support for HIV positive members.
Hudson Tucker, Dignity Association
LGBTI issues exist in the country because of the secrecy surrounding homosexual conduct, the unwillingness of victims to report abuse and the tendency for communities to discriminate against LGBTI individuals, rather than to enforce legal codes.
There is very little written evidence to support the claims of abuse in Sierra Leone. Being visible and keeping the office open has been a key achievement. Recognition of the issues of homosexuality from reports has led to sensitization of individuals.
LGBTI issues have been brought up at different meetings. Dialogues have been held with the police and other stakeholders on the need for high-risk populations to identify strategies to address these anti-gay laws. A positive relationship with the police has been initiated and as a result, even though the anti-gay laws still exist, they have not being used for quite some time now.
However, these laws can be used at any time thereby threatening the existence and functionality of the LGBTI movement in Sierra Leone. This is a barrier in the progress of LGBTI activism in Sierra Leone.
There have been multiple threats against activists and HRDs. LGBTI groups have been refused registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission. The government of Sierra Leone has no acts of parliament protecting the rights of LGBT persons in the country. Religion, culture and tradition are very intolerant to any form of sexual behaviour outside the “norm.”
Nahnkamy N. Reeves, Action Aid Liberia (AAL)
For the past five years, the general human rights situation has been a consolidation of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and human rights activists. Focus has been on sexual violence, the rights of women, HIV/Aids, the rule of law and women rights. The country does not have a law that criminalizes LGBT.
However, the social mainstream is charged with religious intensity, which in a way stigmatizes or raises moral questions around the rights of people to exercise their right to freedom of choice. As a result, LGBTI issues are on the back burner of human rights activism.
Sexual minorities have not asserted their rights in a manner that the informal society is aware of their presence and needs. The perceptions of LGBT have not provided key actors with the knowledge they need to regard LGBT as a human rights issue.
Also, most Liberians regard being gay or lesbian not as a sexual orientation, but as a means of sexual exploitation. Research has shown that gays and lesbians are reluctant to come to the forefront of the rights movement and are either closeted or underground. There is also fear of stigma and discrimination and a lack of solidarity by human rights activists, CSOs to advocate for the rights of LGBT. People are not aware that homosexuals exist and some people perceive the issue from a religious standpoint.
We lack an official voice for the LGBT community by the LGBT people. Intolerant and resistant social mainstream is exacerbated by a high subscription to religious orientation. Our opportunities include the fact that the Liberian constitution does not have negative and punitive laws to criminalize LGBT. The UNDP has asked AAL to come up with a country context document around LGBT. The situation in Liberia can be described as being difficult.
Anita Confidence Cobbinah, CEPEHRG
We have created a Coalition Against Homophobia in Ghana (CAHG). Like many of the British ex-colonies under the criminal code “unnatural carnal knowledge” is illegal in Ghana. Unnatural carnal knowledge is not clearly defined, however, it is understood that this includes male-male sex acts especially sodomy or buggery.
Furthermore, under the constitution, sexual rights are not specifically protected. In this context, attacks and death threats are typical, especially against homosexual males. The media has written sensational articles that are flawed with inaccuracies on the influence, size, nature and desires of homosexual individuals. Black mail, violence, hate crimes, sensationalist and homophobic articles on homosexuality occur virtually every day. People have refused to attend outreach programs for fear of being tagged a homosexual.
In the past, staff have been subjected to assaults on their way to the office or while doing fieldwork and outreach programs. On one occasion, a car intentionally hit a member of staff and another was harassed by a group of men while walking on the road. These incidents happened because of their sexual orientation.
There have been several articles by politicians and government labelling homosexuals as irreligious and immoral. Also, there has been several state sponsored anti gay campaign. The media has said that homosexuals are recruiting young boys so people need to protect their young ones.
A woman was disqualified from being on the board of the West African Lawyers Association because she said the rights of homosexuals should be respected. In order to update our security measures to meet the existing threats, we have compiled a list of measures and materials we currently use to protect ourselves. We have also made a list of items and measures needed to protect ourselves.