Widespread arrests, attacks and legal restrictions facing LGBTQI+ activists across Africa finds new report
Johannesburg | 4 July, 2023
- Same-sex relations criminalised in at least 27 countries south of the Sahara
- Organisations shut down and offices raided for their work on LGBTQI+ rights
- Widespread bans on the publication of information on gay rights
- Anti-LGBTQI+ laws and practices disproportionately impact other excluded groups including women, children and victims of abuse
From Uganda to Cameroon, LGBTQI+ activists face significant restrictions due to the prevailing social, cultural and legal attitudes towards homosexuality and gender identity. A new report by CIVICUS, Challenging Barriers: Investigating Civic Space Limitations on LGBTQI+ Rights in Africa, looks at some common challenges faced by activists and civil society groups in countries south of the Sahara.
Many African countries have laws that criminalise same sex activity. The laws, often remnants of colonial era legislation, can be used to target and prosecute LGBTQI+ individuals, including activists. Penalties range from fines, imprisonment to even the death penalty in some countries.
Limited legal protection in many African countries offers little or no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This lack of protection makes it difficult for activists and civil society groups to advocate for equal rights or seek justice when they face human rights abuses. The offices and activities of civil society organisations advocating for LGBTQI+ rights have been either raided or shutdown in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Cameroon.
Attacks against people who identify as LGBTQI+ are common in countries such as Benin, Cameroon and Kenya. In Cameroon since 2022 there have been over 30 recorded cases of violence and abuse against LGBTQI+ people, while in Kenya sexual minority groups face escalating homophobic attacks. In January 2023, following a series of killings in 2022, unknown assailants murdered and dumped the body of LGBTQI+ activist Edwin Chiloba. Chiloba’s death, which many linked to his sexual orientation sparked public outrage, with civil society groups and members of the public denouncing the murder and calling on the authorities to bring those involved to justice.
“With the escalating hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community in Africa, this report sheds light on the grave reality faced by many, and compels us to challenge prejudice, and advocate for equality - especially for the most marginalised. Governments must ensure equal protection for all people in accordance with their obligations on non-discrimination under international human rights law. We implore governments to take robust measures to safeguard the rights and well-being of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Sylvia Mbataru, CIVICUS’ Civic Space Researcher for Eastern & Southern Africa.
Censorship and restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly have contributed to a deteriorating environment for activists. In several countries, the publication and dissemination of material on LGBTQI+ issues face strict editorial controls and bans. CIVICUS also documents how protests are being suppressed, including the use of various laws to deny permits for public demonstrations, specifically targeting LGBTQI gatherings.
Despite the hostile environment in many countries, civil society groups continue to advocate for LGBTQI+ rights and score important victories. The report also documents a number of positive developments including the decriminalization of same sex relations in Botswana and Gabon, as well as a recent Supreme Court decision in Namibia to recognise same-sex marriages concluded abroad between citizens and foreign spouses.
The report concludes by demonstrating the impact of civic space restrictions against LGBTQI+ groups, and shows how the ramifications of these restrictions also affect other excluded groups including women and children.