/ 26 September 2014

Chad rides wave of homophobia in Africa

Chad Rides Wave Of Homophobia In Africa

Chad looks set to become the 37th country in Africa to outlaw homosexuality after government ministers voted to make same-sex relations a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The decision, yet to be ratified by the country’s president, was condemned by human rights groups as another setback in the struggle for gay rights on the continent.

Chad’s penal code is more than half a century old and does not explicitly mention homosexuality. But section 361 of a new draft states that the punishment for anyone who has sexual intercourse with persons of the same sex is 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 50 000 to 500 000 Central African francs, according to a document seen by Agence France Presse.

The Cabinet claims that the measure is intended to “protect the family and to comply with Chadian society”. It will go before MPs and President Idriss Déby to be rubber-stamped.

The United States-based Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights called on Déby to strike down the proposed law.

“By criminalising homosexuality, Chad’s proposed penal code is an instrument of discrimination,” said its president, Kerry Kennedy. “I urge president Déby and the Chadian Parliament to reject any attempts to make prejudice the law of the land.”

The new penal code also abolishes the death penalty, more than a decade after the last execution of prisoners, a move welcomed by activists. “This is very good news, which is unfortunately marred by the criminalisation of homosexuality,” Florent Geel, Africa director of the International Federation of Human Rights, was quoted as saying by the Gay Star News website. “Criminalising homosexuality seems discriminatory, demagogic and counterproductive, as it may turn groups against each other.”

Geel added that the reform of the penal code had been in preparation for 10 years but the question of homosexuality, while considered immoral, had never been an issue in Chad.

The development is part of a wave of homophobia sweeping across Africa.

Some observers believe it may have been a response to the increased ­visibility and assertiveness of gay lifestyles and politics in Africa, though US evangelical Christians have been widely blamed for ­instigating draconian antigay legislation in Uganda and other countries. Same-sex relations are illegal in 36 of the continent’s 54 countries, according to Amnesty International, and punishable by death in some.

Last month the Gambia passed a bill imposing life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality”, relating to repeat offenders and people living with HIV. The Gambia’s president, Yahya Jammeh, has previously told gay men and lesbians to leave the country or risk beheading.

Uganda recently attempted to impose draconian penalties for the “promotion of homosexuality”, including life sentences for various same-sex acts. The law was struck down by judges on a technicality but is expected to be reintroduced by MPs. – © Guardian News & Media 2014