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UN Chief Urges Africa to Respect Gay Rights

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the opening of an African Union (AU) summit , in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 29, 2012.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the opening of an African Union (AU) summit , in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 29, 2012.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on African leaders to respect gay rights, and to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

On a continent where homosexuality is outlawed in many places, the U.N. chief told Africa's leaders to end discrimination against gays and lesbians. He said laws against homosexuality violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Let me mention one form of discrimination that has been ignored or even sanctioned by many states for far too long, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This has prompted some governments to treat people as second-class citizens, or even criminals," he said. "Confronting this discrimination is a challenge. But we must live up to the ideals of the Universal Declaration."

The more than 30 African heads of state and government sat silently during Ban's speech. But more than one speaker at the opening summit session expressed irritation at what many perceive as outside interference in African affairs.

Homosexuals face severe discrimination in most African societies. Gays are often ostracized. South Africa is the only African country where gay rights are officially recognized.

An international AIDS conference in Addis Ababa last month was nearly derailed when the leaders of Ethiopia's main religious denominations scheduled a joint news conference to express outrage at a planned meeting of gay-rights activists. The clergymen called off their protest only after the gay-rights meeting was moved from a local hotel to the United Nations compound.

Many of those same religious leaders met reporters in 2008 to urge passage of a constitutional amendment against homosexuality.

Secretary General Ban also used his speech to urge respect for the International Criminal Court. Several African leaders have accused the court of an anti-African bias.

Outgoing AU chairman, Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema told the summit Africa should establish its own court to put an end to what he called "unjust and discriminatory actions" by international tribunals.

But Secretary General Ban pointed out the new chief prosecutor of the ICC is an African woman, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia.