Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Thursday described homosexuality as “inhuman.”
“The West says we must accept there is change in the world, that gays have human rights,” he said during an event at a hotel in Harare, the country’s capital, that commemorated International Women’s Day as the Herald, a Zimbabwean newspaper, reported. “Gays have no human rights. They have human rights – human rights for doing an inhuman thing.”
Mugabe has repeatedly faced criticism from Zimbabwean LGBT rights advocates and others over his homophobic rhetoric.
He told supporters during a rally last July ahead of the African country’s presidential election that authorities should arrest gays and lesbians who don’t conceive children. Mugabe during the same event criticized the Anglican Church for blessing same-sex marriage and President Obama over his support of nuptials for gays and lesbians.
The Zimbabwean president described gays and lesbians who took part in a Harare book fair in 1995 as “dogs and pigs.” Mugabe reportedly said in a speech at a teacher’s college in the city of Masvingo last June that gay men and lesbians “should rot in jail.”
“President Mugabe’s hateful and wholly irresponsible comments about LGBT people in Zimbabwe are highly unfortunate, though not altogether surprising,” Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights told the Washington Blade on Friday, referring to the Zimbabwean president’s latest comments against gays and lesbians. “These comments are consistent with Mugabe’s past statements, describing gays as worse than ‘pigs and dogs.’ For Mugabe to declare gays and lesbians as somehow inhuman, on a day meant to celebrate equality, is horribly ironic and reprehensible.”
The Zimbabwean government has also frequently targeted members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), a local LGBT advocacy group.
Police in August 2012 arrested more than 40 members of the organization inside their Harare office. GALZ members said authorities confiscated computers and pamphlets from the same office a few days before the arrests.
“We are deeply concerned when security forces become an instrument of political violence used against citizens exercising their democratic rights,” said then-State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland after the incidents. “We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to end this pattern of abuse and to eradicate the culture of impunity that allows members of the security sector to continue to violate the rights of the Zimbabwean people.”
Smith told the Blade that officials stopped a GALZ workshop two weeks ago.
A Zimbabwean LGBT rights advocate with whom the Blade spoke in D.C. in February 2013 said Mugabe and his political party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front or ZANU-PF, use homosexuality as “one of their campaign tools.”
Mugabe last July defeated former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in his country’s disputed presidential election.
“They will use this issue to threaten the LGBT people in Zimbabwe,” said the activist who asked the Blade not to publish his name because of potential reprisals against him. “They will do everything in their power to make sure that LGBT people are punished.”
Smith further categorized Mugabe’s crackdown on LGBT rights and homophobic rhetoric as “unacceptable.”
“Mugabe’s brazen disregard for human rights and the principles enshrined in his country’s own constitution is indicative of the wider crisis in Zimbabwe,” Smith told the Blade.”[It] has been exacerbated by his re-election last July, of which many observers – including the U.S. and other world leaders – declared fraudulent and by no means representing the will of the Zimbabwean people.”