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Rights Group Warns of Rwanda Anti-Gay Draft Law

A coalition of human rights groups is condemning a proposed amendment to Rwanda's criminal law that would criminalize homosexual behavior and advocacy.

Rights Group Warns of Rwanda Anti-Gay Draft Law
Rights Group Warns of Rwanda Anti-Gay Draft Law

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Meanwhile, Rwanda's northern neighbor, Uganda, is receiving heat for a "draconian" anti-gay bill being debated in its legislature.

The coalition Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders says the draft language to criminalize homosexuality could be voted on in the Rwandan lower house of parliament by Friday.  The draft code would then pass to the Rwandan senate for approval.

The amended language for Article 217 acquired by the group would give offenders - those who "practice," "encourage," or "sensitize" someone of the same sex towards homosexual relations - a prison term of five to 10 years in addition to a hefty fine.

Homosexuality is not currently criminalized under Rwandan law.

A spokesperson for the coalition-partner International Federation for Human Rights, Pouline Kimani, says the bill violates basic human rights and could threaten the health and well-being of those who identify as part of the gay community.

"If this bill passes then it emphasizes on state-sponsored homophobia and also community homophobia, because it almost justifies the use violence against LGBTI [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex] persons based upon the fact that it will criminalize their identity," said Kimani.

Politicized anti-gay sentiment has recently been sweeping across east Africa.  Burundi earlier this year criminalized homosexuality.  Uganda has been debating an anti-gay bill that includes a possible death sentence for violators.  Kenya and Tanzania already have anti-gay laws, though homosexual rights activists fear that these laws could be expanded.

The anti-gay bills have been bolstered by a strengthening and organized conservative Christian evangelical movement in the region, as well as "anti-colonialist" emotions.  Many Africans claim homosexuality is a foreign import from the West.

Kimani says that the politicians do not fully realize the damaging consequences that criminalization can have.

"With observation of what has happened in east Africa since 2004 when Zanzibar put in the sodomy law, each and every of these east Africa countries is rushing towards having a bill against LGBTI persons without thinking of the effects of it," he said.

Activists say that criminalization of homosexuality discourages those in the gay community from seeking testing and medical care for HIV/AIDS for fears of being suspected.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders coalition is a joint venture of the International Federation of Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture.  

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