- Nigerian and international human rights organisations have written a protest letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo, urging him not to go forward with new legislation that would criminalise homosexuality. A proposed bill is to introduce criminal penalties for relationships and marriage ceremonies between persons of the same sex as well as for public advocacy or associations supporting the rights of lesbian and gay people.
A large group of human rights groups sent a protest letter to the Nigerian President earlier this week, according to a release by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch. Among the five Nigerian groups signing the protest were the Alliance Rights and the Centre for Democracy and Development. Also the Cameroon-based African Human Rights Organisation singed the petition.
In the letter, the human rights groups state their "deep concern" over the proposed bill that criminalises homosexuality and organisations supporting gays and lesbians. "The legislation proposed by Minister of Justice Bayo Ojo not only contravenes internationally recognized protections against discrimination, as well as the basic rights to freedom of expression, conscience, association, and assembly, but also undermines Nigeria's struggle to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS," the letter says.
The signatories warn that the "broad and sweeping provisions" of this proposed legislation could lead to "the imprisonment of individuals solely for their actual or imputed sexual orientation in a number of ways, including for consensual sexual relations in private, advocacy of lesbian and gay rights, or public expression of their sexual identity."
That, according to these human rights groups, would make anyone imprisoned under this law a prisoner of conscience. "We urge you to disavow this proposal which contradicts fundamental freedoms under the Nigerian constitution [and] international human rights law and standards," he groups tell the Nigerian President.
On 19 January, Minister Ojo presented to the Federal Executive Council an "Act to Make Provisions for the Prohibition of Relationship Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by Them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith." While the Council reportedly approved the bill, it has not yet been submitted to the federal national assembly of Nigeria.
According to a draft of the bill, the law would provide five years imprisonment for any person who "goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex," "performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage," or "is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organisations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private."
Anyone, including a priest or cleric, aiding or abetting such a union would be subject to the same prison term. The draft bill would also prohibit the registration of gay organisations, any public display of a "same sex amorous relationship," and adoption of children by lesbian or gay couples or individuals. In addition, the drift bill would invalidate same sex relationship formally entered into or recognised in foreign jurisdictions.
The human rights groups warn of the consequences of this law, if passed. "Laws criminalising homosexuality can also act as a licence to torture and ill treatment. By institutionalising discrimination, they can act as an official incitement to violence against lesbians and gay men in the community as a whole, whether in custody, in prison, on the street or in the home," the letter to President Obasanjo says.
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