After Malawi, Zambia comes under fire for anti-gay stance

2010-05-22 07:56

As a gay couple in Malawi began serving a 14-year jail term this

week for conducting an open relationship, another southern African country has

come under fire over its treatment of homosexual people.

New York-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that

recent homophobic statements by religious leaders and government authorities in

Zambia, Malawi’s neighbour to the west, was undermining the fight against the

HIV/AIDS pandemic there.

In a letter to Zambian leaders dated May 17 and released to the

media late on Thursday, HRW called on the government of President Rupiah Banda

to condemn statements that could discourage gay men from using health-care

facilities, including HIV testing, and “erode their fundamental human


The letter called on Zambian lawmakers to decriminalise consenting

homosexual conduct.

Homosexual acts are banned in Zambia, as they are in Malawi and a

number of other African countries.

On Thursday a gay couple in Malawi were handed down the maximum

sentence of 14 years in prison with hard labour after being found guilty of

engaging in “acts against the order of nature”.

Repression elsewhere

The case caused an international outcry and shone a light on the

ongoing repression of homosexuals across the African continent.

In Zambia no fewer than two religious leaders have recently

criticised donor countries for speaking out in defence of the country’s lesbian,

gay, bisexual and transgender population.

HRW quoted Bishop JH Banda, chairperson of the National Aids

Council, as describing the donors’ efforts as being “against the traditional

values of the country”.

Zambia’s Anglican Council’s presiding bishop, Robert Mumbi, also

recently described homosexuality as “un-African” – a refrain which is often


Elsewhere in the region, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has

said that gays “are lower than dogs and pigs” and refused to include gay rights

in discussions on a new constitution.

In the central African country of Uganda a draft bill is before

parliament that would increase penalties for homosexual acts to life in prison

or even death in some cases.

HRW fears that homophobic statements will compromise efforts to

prevent the spread of the deadly HIV virus in the gay community. HIV is mainly

contracted through unprotected sex.

“Zambia has a strong track record on addressing HIV/Aids,” Joseph

Amon, Health and Human Rights director at Human Rights Watch, said in the


“However, promoting intolerance and creating a climate of fear will

only sabotage efforts to ensure access to HIV prevention and treatment by

driving men underground.”

Zambia’s anti-gay law, which dates back to the British colonial

era, violated the country’s constitution in that the charter guaranteed the

right to privacy and prohibited discrimination, HRW said.

The same argument has been made by human rights groups in Malawi.

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