Danilo da Silva, executive director of Lambda, a Mozambican LGBT advocacy group based in the country’s capital of Maputo, on Wednesday said the colonial-era law from 1886 was “very vague.” He noted the revised penal code took effect less than a week after the 40th anniversary of Mozambique’s independence from Portugal.
“It was absurd to stay with an outdated penal code, which reflected the bigotry and the morals of former colonial masters,” da Silva told the Blade during a Skype interview. “I don’t think it would sit well with Mozambicans. The country has to advance.”
The process to decriminalize homosexuality in the African country began in 2009.
Mozambican lawmakers last December approved the amended legal code. Former President Joaquim Chissano is among those who publicly supported efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in the former Portuguese colony.
Da Silva expressed disappointment the anti-discrimination and hate speech provisions contained within the new legal code do not include sexual orientation. He added he feels the decriminalization of homosexuality in his country will do little to curb anti-LGBT attitudes within Mozambican society.
“Decriminalization will not change social attitudes,” da Silva told the Blade. “People still insult LGBT people. People would still be discriminated against.”
LGBT and human rights advocates in the U.S. on Wednesday applauded their Mozambican counterparts.
“LGBT advocates in Mozambique worked tirelessly with the broader civil society community to ensure that the reform of Mozambique’s criminal code would create a more equal Mozambique for all,” said Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb. “Their work serves as a model for success that inspires all of us.”
An official with the State Department also welcomed the decriminalization of homosexuality in Mozambique.
“We applaud the affirmation of universal human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the official told the Blade.
Jeffrey Smith of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights specifically applauded Chissano for speaking “bravely and publicly about the need to respect LGBT rights.”
“Mozambique has taken another positive step forward, setting a tremendously positive example for the entire region,” Smith told the Blade.
Mozambique is the latest African country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.
Sao Tome and Principe and Lesotho legalized homosexuality in 2012. Cape Verde decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 2004.
Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain illegal in Egypt, Gambia, South Sudan, Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe and more than two dozen other African countries. Those found guilty of homosexuality in Mauritania, Sudan and portions of Nigeria and Somalia face the death penalty.
Da Silva told the Blade he feels the decriminalization of homosexuality in Mozambique sends “a clear message” to LGBT rights advocates in other African countries who are spearheading similar efforts.
“We want to guarantee that everyone has the right in our society and can contribute in our society,” he said. “We should move away from promoting stigma and discrimination and exclusion.”