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Malawi’s Constitutional Court declines to legalize same-sex relationships

Binational couple brought case in 2023

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(Bigstock photo)

Human rights organizations in Malawi have criticized the country’s Constitutional Court over its June 28 ruling that declined to legalize same-sex relationships.

Wim Akster, a Dutch national, and Jana Gonani, a local transgender woman, through their lawyers last year approached the Constitutional Court over the legalization of consensual same-sex relations under the penal code, which criminalizes so-called acts of “carnal knowledge against the order of nature and gross indecency” with a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison with corporal punishment for both men and women.

The Constitutional Court heard the case and issued its ruling on June 28.

“We echo the concern voiced regarding the recent Malawi Constitutional Court ruling on consensual same-sex sexual conduct,” said U.N. Human Rights Southern Africa. “We urge the government to protect and stand up for the human rights of vulnerable groups, including LGBTQ+ persons, by ensuring domestic laws align with international obligations.” 

Khanyo Farise, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, described the ruling as a bitter setback for human rights in Malawi.

“The court’s decision to keep these discriminatory laws on the books is a bitter setback for human rights in Malawi. The ruling manifestly flies in the face of Malawi’s constitution, the African Charter and international human rights law, which all clearly prohibit discrimination,” said Farise. “It also makes Malawi an outlier in Southern Africa, where most countries have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual conduct.”

Farise added “the court’s refusal to overturn these laws means LGBTI persons in Malawi will continue to face discrimination and persecution simply for who they love.” 

“In particular, this ruling translates to continued barriers in access to healthcare and other social services for LGBTI persons,” said Farise. “Amnesty International stands with all LGBTI people in Malawi, who deserve the right to live their lives with dignity and full humanity. We also demand that authorities ensure their safety in the face of threats of violence.” 

U.N. Human Rights said the provisions of the Malawian penal code that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations should be repealed.

“The Constitutional Court’s ruling upholding the criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct is deeply disappointing and contrary to the country’s own international human rights obligations,” it said. “The anti-gay law must be repealed and the rights of LGBTQ+ people protected.”

LGBTQ activists in Malawi say the recent surge in demonstrations and actions against the community that traditional and religious leaders have organized have raised serious concerns about the protection of human rights and the principles of equality and nondiscrimination. 

“Homophobic sentiments are leading to higher rates of mental health issues, unemployment and homelessness,” said the Nyasa Rainbow Alliance. “It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”

“Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world,” added the group. “They are of all ages, races, and faiths. They are doctors, teachers, farmers, bankers, soldiers, athletes, and whether we know it or we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.” 

Media reports indicate human rights organizations are considering an appeal of the ruling.

The Namibian High Court last month decriminalized consensual same-sex relations. Mauritius last year declared Article 250 of the country’s penal code that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations as unconstitutional following a four year legal battle that Abdool Ridwan Firaas (Ryan) Ah Seek, president of Arc-en-Ciel, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group, initiated.

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Africa

Cameroon president’s daughter comes out

Brenda Biya acknowledges relationship with Brazilian model

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Brenda Biya (Photo via Instagram)

The daughter of Cameroonian President Paul Biya has come out as a lesbian.

Brenda Biya, 26, on June 30 posted to her Instagram page a picture of her kissing Brazilian model Layyons Valença.

“I’m crazy about you and I want the world to know,” said Brenda Biya.

Her father has been Cameroon’s president since 1982.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in the Central African country that borders Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Chad. The State Department’s 2023 human rights report notes harassment, discrimination, violence, and arbitrary arrests of LGBTQ people are commonplace in the country.

Brenda Biya is a musician who does not live in Cameroon.

The BBC reported she told Le Parisien, a French newspaper, in an exclusive interview published on Tuesday that she and Valença have been together for eight months. The women have also traveled to Cameroon together three times, but Brenda Biya did not tell her family they were in a relationship.

Brenda Biya said she did not tell her family that she planned to come out, and they were upset when she did. Brenda Biya told Le Parisien that her mother, Cameroonian first lady Chantale Biya, asked her to delete her Instagram post.

The Washington Blade on Thursday did not see the picture of Brenda Biya and Valença on her Instagram account.

“Coming out is an opportunity to send a strong message,” Brenda Biya told Le Parisien.

Brenda Biya described Cameroon’s criminalization law as “unfair, and I hope that my story will change it.”

Activists applauded Brenda Biya for coming out. The BBC reported the DDHP Movement, which supports Cameroon’s anti-LGBTQ laws, filed a complaint against her with the country’s public prosecutor.

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Ugandan activists again appeal ruling that upheld Anti-Homosexuality Act

Country’s Constitutional Court in April refused to ‘nullify’ law

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(Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

A group of LGBTQ activists in Uganda on Thursday once again appealed a ruling that upheld the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court on April 3 refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha and Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara are among the activists who appealed the ruling to the country’s Court of Appeal on April 16.

A picture that Mugisha posted to his X account on Thursday notes he, along with Nabagesara, are two of the 22 activists who filed the latest appeal with the Supreme Court, which is the country’s highest court.

“Today, we have filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Uganda to overturn the Constitutional Court decision that upheld the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Law,” said Mugisha.

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LGBTQ Kenyans join protests against controversial tax bill

More than 40 people killed after protesters stormed parliament on June 25

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There were clashes between police and protesters in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 2, 2024. (Screen capture via AP YouTube)

Queer Kenyans have braved the risks of homophobic attacks and joined young people in the nationwide protests against the government’s proposed tax hikes on bread and other essentials.

The protests, which started mid-last month before the National Assembly on June 25 passed the country’s controversial Finance Bill 2024, have been led by the country’s Gen Z and millennial populations.

The nationwide protests, which culminated with angry mobs storming parliament when the bill passed, have also drawn LGBTQ Kenyans who have marched with Pride flags alongside other protesters with the national flag. The queer protesters, however, stopped carrying the rainbow flags out of fear of anti-LGBTQ attacks after other protesters warned the presence of the Pride flag threatened to spur a serious backlash from parents, clerics, and government loyalists who oppose the championing of homosexuality, which Kenyan laws criminalize.

President William Ruto, who defiantly pushed for the enactment of the bill to raise more revenues to implement projects, bowed to pressure from the protesters and the international community and declined to assent to the proposed law. This decision followed the ugly scenes on June 25 after riot police responded to the peaceful protesters with force that left more than 40 people dead and more than 300 others injured from live bullets, massive looting, and destruction of property.

GALCK, which is a coalition of 16 LGBTQ rights groups, while supporting the anti-tax protests and the participation of their members stated that the Finance Bill “disproportionately burdens Kenyans and threatens our most vulnerable communities including the LGBTQ+ individuals.”

“For LGBTQ+ Kenyans who often face additional healthcare challenges, these taxes pose a significant barrier,” GALCK said in a statement.

The group reiterated that introducing taxes on digital content creation on which the majority of Kenya’s unemployed youths rely as a source of income would have also severely impacted the LGBTQ organizations and activists who depend on online platforms for advocacy and awareness campaigns.

“This stifles crucial efforts to address systemic inequalities faced by the LGBTQ+ community,” GALCK noted.

GALCK also stated the government’s proposed tax hikes on transaction costs for bank and mobile money transfers through the Finance Bill would have impacted LGBTQ people in need of emergency support and smooth flow of funds within the queer community.

Regarding the government’s proposal that would have allowed the country’s tax collector, the Kenya Revenue Authority, to freely access crucial information from people regardless of the existing data protection laws, GALCK noted the move would have amounted to a serious privacy violation to the LGBTQ organizations, activists, and donors.

“This bill is not just about the proposed tax hikes, it is about basic rights and the future of Kenya,” GALCK affirmed. “As GALCK, we will continue protesting and raising awareness until our voices are heard. Together, we can build a safe and sustainable country for all of us.”

Although GALCK has expressed its condolences to the families of protesters killed during the nationwide protests, it has thus far not reported any queer person killed or injured, even as a memorial concert in honor of the more than 40 victims was held last Sunday at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

The Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND), an LGBTQ+ rights group, has also been instrumental in ensuring both the queer and non-LGBTQ protesters stay safe and healthy during and after protests by sharing informative tips.

INEND, for instance, informed the protesters on the need to bathe to get rid of teargas and other chemical compounds that riot police threw at them, residual dust, and sweat for healthy skin. The group also advised protesters to drink a lot of water to (re)hydrate their bodies, get enough rest after the protest, seek immediate medical care when injured, and receive psychological support.

“Once rested, movements (protesters) should regroup in a day or two to discuss follow-up steps for arrested members, successes or setbacks of the protest, opportunities created for movement-building and the next strategies involving media appearances, following up with institutions, social media campaigns, another protest, and suchlike activities,” INEND stated.

The nationwide protest movement, which is organic, has mostly been mobilized by social media influencers and human rights activists but with no de facto leaders. It is, therefore, difficult for authorities to deal with it and they have resorted to arbitrary arrests and abductions.

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