The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) released a report this week highlighting how laws against same-sex relations in Sub-Saharan Africa have led to social stigma and the blackmail and extortion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Titled Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa, the report contains articles from “leading African activists and academics on the prevalence, severity and impact of these human rights violations on LGBT people in Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.”
The tragic reality is that blackmail and extortion are part of the daily lives of many LGBT Africans who are isolated and made vulnerable by homophobic laws and social stigma,” says IGLHRC’s Executive Director, Cary Alan Johnson. “The responsibility clearly lies with governments to address these crimes and the underlying social and legal vulnerability of LGBT people.”
The report’s authors vividly depict the isolation, humiliation and manipulation to which LGBT people are subjected by blackmailers and extortionists and describe the threats of exposure, theft, assault, and rape, that can damage and even destroy the lives of victims. Vulnerability to these crimes is faced on a regular basis and families and communities are not safe havens. For example, according to research conducted in Cameroon and featured in the report, “the bulk of blackmail and extortion attempts were committed by other members of the community – 33.9% by neighbors, 11.8% by family members, 11.5% by classmates, and 14.1% by homosexual friends. Police were often complicit in this – either by ignoring or dismissing it or, in 11.5% of cases, directly perpetrating it.”
Nowhere to Turn explores the role the State plays in these crimes by ignoring blackmail and extortion carried out by police and other officials by failing to prosecute blackmailers, and by charging LGBT victims under sodomy laws when they do find the courage to report blackmail to the authorities.
IGLHRC urges States to take concrete steps to reduce the incidence of these crimes by decriminalizing same-sex sexual activity, educating officials and communities about blackmail laws, and ensuring that all people are able to access judicial mechanisms without prejudice.
The publication of this report seems especially relevant given that one of the countries mentioned, Malawi, has worked over the past few months to formally criminalize lesbian relations by amending the Malawi Penal Code to include Section 137A “Indecent Practices Between Females”, making explicit that any woman who, whether publicly or privately, is found to have committed acts of “gross indecency with another female” may face up to five years in prison.
This amendment has been made in defiance of international pressure and threats of foreign aid cuts from donors like Germany who are now withholding half of the $33 million it had pledged to the nation.
The criminalization of lesbian relations in Malawi is noteworthy because Malawi’s government has categorically stated that they would rather loose aid than decriminalize homosexuality, running counter to international human rights laws and Malawi’s own constitutional obligations to nondiscrimination.
As such, the IGLHRC’s report further highlights how vulnerable LGBTs are made, both socially and legally, in nations that pursue criminalization of homosexuality, creating climates of stigmatization, denunciation and violence.
You can read the IGLHRC report Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa here.
If you would like to find out more about the IGLHRC or support the group’s work in protecting LGBT rights around the globe, please click here.
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