I must admit that my frustration at what I see as the pointless posturing of all these forums you hear about that happen in all sorts of fancy places leaves me … well, very frustrated. Take this one that has just happened in the Gambia with a lot of gay groups in attendance.
I usually don’t do it but I am going to dissect, point by point, what I see as yet another missed opportunity for these groups to focus on the real issue bedeviling the African Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersexual (LGBTI) communities.
My response to the lofty Banjul recommendations:
- Condemning persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by governments across Africa. (There was no need to spend money on plane tickets and hotel accommodation to say something as obvious as this. Only last December, gay activists managed to put together a communique which they directed at Britain’s David Cameron and (by extension) America’s Barack Obama – without having to gather in fancy and exotic locations so things like this can be agreed upon and a joint activist statement issued as happened with the lecture directed at Britain last December.
- Calling on States to end impunity of state and non-state actors on violence against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. (This, too, could have been agreed upon among the entire activists groups on the African continent by e-mail cicularizaiton).
- Unequivocally stating that laws that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct between adults violate the non-discrimination and equality provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. (Another obvious and, frankly, tired exhortation that didn’t require flying to the Gambia for. If Cameroon is not honoring this charter, how does saying this on a wind-swept beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean change their president’s stance?)
- Asserting that cultural and religious rights can peacefully coexist with the rights to non-discrimination and equality. (How? Explaining how this might come about to Martin Ssempa and Robert Mugabe would have helped).
- Emphasizing that governments across Africa have a responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all persons, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity. (But of course! Again, obvious, trite unless the forum agreed on specific steps to achieve this. Did they?)
- Calling on states to cease arbitrary arrests and imprisonment of individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. (My thoughts are that the money spent on this entire meeting could have been collected and sent to Cameroon and the other handful of African states where legal representation is needed to fight for the individuals caught up in these arbitrary arrests. Talking about it in Banjul is just that – talk that can be ignored).
- Calling on states to repeal laws that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct between adults, and amend other laws that are implemented with the purpose of persecuting individuals and communities based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, such as laws against indecency, cross-dressing, impersonation, and debauchery, among others. (See my remarks at 1-6)
- Calling on states with anti-homosexuality bills pending to withdraw such bills with immediate effect. (Obviously. But the same people who gathered in Banjul have said this ad nauseum without spending money on airline tickets. Why did they have to go to Banjul to again say the same thing?)
- Committing the African Commission to develop principles and standards on the prevention of persecution, discrimination and violence against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by state and non-state actors alike. Such principles and standards should be based on the African Charter, the African Commission’s jurisprudence, and the standards elaborated by the UN human rights bodies and experts. (Someone needs to tell me how this differs from recommendation 3 & 5)
- Committing the African Commission to developing a rigorous and effective investigation, documentation and reporting mechanism for human rights abuses on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This should include mandating the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women and the Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression, and the Working Group for the Protection of the Rights of People Living With HIV, and Those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV to coordinate a Special Committee to investigate, document and report on these violations in order to develop appropriate responses and interventions.
Actually point number 10 holds the most pressing issue that all the LGBTI groups in African ought to be focusing on; finding ways of pressuring our governments to ensure that LGBTI get the same access to medical attention (be it for HIV/Aids or other sexually transmitted diseases) that straight people expect in their respective countries.
To fly to the Gambia to talk about the need for governments to respect gay human rights is akin to holding a seminar on the moon to lecture governments about the need to encourage women to be involved in raising healthy families.
We need to, no, we must, get away from the ‘broken record’ soundbites that have been chewed up and spat out till we are sick of them; they still don’t address the needs of the 18,000 MSM who have no medical treatment. The priority is HIV/Aids as well as public health programs for the gay communities in Africa. It’s time already to focus on that – yes, if necessary in fancy beach locales in West Africa.
Crude as it sounds, arrests and imprisonment of gay men haven’t killed 18,000 gay men in Africa, let alone Uganda. HIV/Aids should do it far more easily if it is left unaddressed.
Tactically, it also makes more sense to focus on LGBTI access to HIV/Aids support since that, by implication, highlights the fact that LGBTI exist among all communities and are faced with the same medical challenges as everyone else.
This is the priority, surely.
- Uganda HIV cases shoot up
- Human Rights Defenders,CSOs Meet in Banjul Ahead of 51st African Commission … (ethioandinet.wordpress.com)
- 18 men, presumed to be gay, charged with indecency after Gambia dance for tourists (miamiherald.typepad.com)
- Focus on LGBTI Health in Uganda imminent? (sebaspace.wordpress.com)
- Rectal microbicides become a high priority in the fight against HIV in Africa (eurekalert.org)