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Laws on Homosexuality in African Nations

This post was co-authored with Constance A. Johnson, a senior legal information analyst at the Law Library of Congress.  Connie has previously blogged about Law Relating to Refugee Rights – Global Legal Collection Highlights, Law and Longitude, Water Rights at Star Island, and our Guide on Legal Translation.

Recent Nigerian and Ugandan laws criminalizing homosexuality have brought the issue of how African nations treat members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community back into the world media spotlight.  Some commentators consider that there is now a continent-wide trend.  For instance, an article in The Guardian titled “Why Africa is the Most Homophobic Continent” described Africa as “a continent at war with itself.”

Here at the Law Library we recently completed a survey regarding the laws on homosexuality in forty-nine African jurisdictions and found that they vary from one country to another.

Our survey indicated that some African countries do strictly ban homosexuality.  Nigeria and Uganda, which recently enacted laws that criminalize homosexuality and any form of gay rights advocacy, are the best examples in this regard.  Countries such as Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe, which use more vague legislative language to criminalize homosexuality, could also possibly fit this bill.

At the other end of the spectrum is South Africa, which permits same-sex marriage and is contemplating making attacks on gay people a hate crime.  Homosexuality is also apparently not criminalized under the laws of several other African countries, including Burkina Faso, Cape VerdeDemocratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Rwanda, and Mali.

In many other African jurisdictions laws criminalizing certain homosexual acts may in fact just be colonial vestiges.  In this category are countries such as Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, and Seychelles.  We are aware, however, that some of these countries have started discussions and/or have introduced legislative reforms related to improving the treatment of the LGBT community.  For instance, Botswana, Mauritius, and Seychelles have all issued laws banning discrimination in the work place on the basis of sexual orientation.  Lesotho recently allowed a gay rights advocacy group to formally register as an NGO, something that is expressly prohibited in both Nigeria and Uganda.  In addition, a number of African countries, including Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Gabon, signed the 2008 UN General Assembly statement affirming that human rights apply equally to all regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

You can browse our chart to see what the laws of each of the countries surveyed say about homosexuality and homosexual acts by going to the Law Library of Congress website.

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