Recently, Mozambique’s LGBT rights activists recorded a significant victory against bigotry and intolerance. This owed much to the repealing of a penal code dating back to 1886 that condemned to three years of hard labour anyone who “habitually engages in vices against nature”.
Consequently, the enactment of the new penal code decriminalises homosexuality at the stroke of a pen. While the repealing of the human rights offending clause represents a transformative moment for Mozambique in the fight for gender justice, there are still some legal hurdles to be surmounted.
For example, Lambda, the association that promotes and defends LGBT rights, has yet to be officially recognised by the government, which runs counter to what former President Joaquim Chissano called for in an open letter penned in 2014 to African heads of states and the Constitution of Mozambique.
In the letter, Chissano called on African leaders to “take a strong stand for fundamental human rights, and advance the trajectory for basic freedoms… This simply means granting every one the freedom and the means to make informed decisions about very basic aspects of one’s life – one’s sexuality, health, and if, when and with whom to have relationships, marry or have children – without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence.”
As such, MenEngage Africa, a network of African country networks working to increase men’s support for gender equality and human rights, welcomes the enactment of the new penal code and recognises that it is a step in the right direction.
Mozambique is signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, although does not explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity, has evolved to include a broad interpretation on the rights and the protection of the rights of LGBT people around the world. Accordingly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states clearly that all people, regardless of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, have to be afforded the same protections provided for by international human rights law, including safeguarding the right of association.
MenEngage Africa notes with grave concern that by not recognising and officially registering Lambda, the Mozambican government is discriminating against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
But as we celebrate the latest developments in Mozambique, we should not lose sight of the anti-gay measures being instituted in some of our African countries. These countries are doing this in blatant disregard to a resolution passed in 2014 by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights calling on national leaders on the continent to respect the human rights and dignity of LGBT people. Same-sex relations are still illegal in 36 of the continent’s 54 countries, according to Amnesty International, and are punishable by death in states such as Mauritania, Nigeria and Sudan.
As such, MenEngage Africa calls on the African Union to take swift action to ensure that governments throughout the length and breadth of the continent do adhere to their commitments to protect the rights of all people in Africa, especially LGBT. MenEngage Africa also calls on the African Union to take action to prevent the routine violation of LGBT rights, starting with getting all heads of states taking a firm stance on decriminalising homosexuality in their countries.
Heads of states and the African Union must deliver on their commitments to protect the rights of LGBT people as stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights. Furthermore, African heads of states have the mandate of supporting moves to remove legal hurdles in their laws and driving the push for the establishment of environments that are safe and friendly for LGBT communities, and failure to act decisively is a dereliction of duty and a mockery of justice.
As MenEngage Africa, we strongly endorse and support President Chissano’s statement that: “We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.” We also urge all African leaders to pay heed to President Chissano’s letter as it provides a clear departure from business as usual insofar as LGBT rights are concerned.
In addition, the MenEngage Africa network calls upon the African Union, the Commission of the African Union, and the Pan-African Parliament to use their extensive powers to address these and other violations of LGBT rights across the continent.
FOR MEDIA ENQUIRIES, PLEASE CONTACT:
Senior Programmes Specialist, Sonke Gender Justice, Chair (MenEngage Africa)
National Coordinator, HOPEM Network, co-Chair (MenEngage Africa)