In light of widespread attacks against homosexuals in African states, and the criminalisation of sexual orientation in some countries, gay and lesbian rights activists are outraged by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights’ (ACHPR) recent refusal to award observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). CAL, an umbrella body affiliated to the University of Pretoria’s law faculty, submitted their application to the African Union’s commission in May 2008.
After receiving no word from ACHPR for two years, CAL made enquiries at the end of October, said CAL programmes administrator Eunice Namugwe.
Shortly thereafter they received an official letter from the ACHPR declining their application for observer status, but were given no reasons for the decision.
Namugwe said the rejection was “frustrating” given the increased homophobia practices on the continent, which affected lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.
She said CAL was the only network in Africa advocating for the protection of lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people’s rights and would be appealing the decision and wanted to know the “exact reasons” for the ACHPR’s rejection.
“It implies we’re not part of the African charter as there are spaces, especially such as East and West Africa where we are not accepted or tolerated at all.”
She said the hostility in some countries was so fierce that activists had to flee in fear for their lives.
The Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) felt “let down” by the commission’s decision, said director Busi Kheswa, as CAL represented all organisations fighting for LGBTI rights on the continent.
Granting CAL observer status would contribute to the fight against homophobia and help them hold states accountable for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, she said.
This included South Africa where lesbians were raped and murdered because of their sexual choices.
An example of this was the ongoing case of Zoliswa Nkonyana who was murdered in Khayelitsha in 2006 because she was a lesbian.
The criminalisation of homosexuals in Uganda and Malawi has also hit international headlines this year.
The Kampala-based The Rolling Stone newspaper in October published a list, with photographs, of 100 homosexuals.
This was done to “help them live responsible lives” the managing editor Giles Muhame was quoted as saying.
Lesbians raped in Malawi are arrested if they report the crime, said Kheswa, and in South Africa the ‘corrective’ rape of lesbians is not seen as a hate crime.
A further blow to LGBTI rights on the continent was South Africa joining 79 countries in voting in favour of an amendment to remove sexual orientation from an anti-execution resolution at the United Nations General Assembly.
The vast majority of countries who supported the amendment were African and also included Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia and Rwanda.
The amendment called for the words “sexual orientation” to be replaced by “discriminatory reasons on any basis”, said Kheswa.
For the last ten years the term “sexual orientation” was explicitly referred to in the resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions and other killings.
South Africa adding their vote implied it endorsed the human rights violations experienced by the LGBTI community at home and abroad, said Triangle Project programme co-ordinator Jill Henderson.
“Political leaders are making decisions that contradict our constitution as LGBTI’s suffer arrest, assault, rape and even murder as homosexuality is criminalised by most African states,” said Henderson.
“The struggle is to make states aware that they need to start taking the human rights violation of LGBTI’s seriously,” she said.
Repeated attempts to get comment from the African Union and the ACHPR were unsuccessful.