UN to launch legal challenge against Malawi anti-gay laws

2014-01-21 15:52

Lilongwe – In a rare challenge to rising anti-gay legislation in Africa, the UN Aids task force and human rights groups will launch a court battle against Malawi’s laws criminalising homosexuality.

The legislation has strained relations between President Joyce Banda’s government and international donors, whose aid is desperately needed in the impoverished country.

UNAids, the Malawi Law Society and local rights groups will ask the high court on March 17 to overturn as unconstitutional laws banning same-sex relationships.

They will also challenge the convictions of three men jailed in 2011. Homosexuality carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years in Malawi.

“Our argument is that as long as same-sex relationships are consensual and done in private, no one has business to get bothered,” said law society spokesperson Felicia Kilembe.

Anti-gay sentiment and the persecution of homosexuals is rife in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan this month provoked ire from the US and the UN after signing a bill criminalising same-sex relationships.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has said the Nigerian law could fuel prejudice and violence and might obstruct an effective HIV/Aids response.

Homosexuality became a contentious issue in Malawi in 2009 when two men were arrested and charged with public indecency for getting married in a traditional ceremony.

They were later pardoned by the late President Bingu wa Mutharika after pressure from donors and the UN.

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