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THE PARODY OF FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND THE LGBTIQ COMMUNITY IN NIGERIA

By Victor Eboh Esq, Reproductive Right Officer

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Sometime in 2018, one PAMELA ADIE, a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, approached the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria, for the registration of an organization with the name, (LESBIAN EQUALITY AND EMPOWERMENT INITIATIVE), whose goal was to advocate for the rights of female sexual minorities. The Corporate Affairs Commission contended that the name could not be approved because it was misleading, offensive, contrary to public policy and violates an existing law that prohibits same sex unions and associations in Nigeria.

Many adherents and sympathizers have wondered and questioned the veracity and otherwise behind the sentiments of the commission.

This piece, seeks to draw a line of contrast and spell out the parody between the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of Association, and the plight of the LGBTIQ community in Nigeria. But before we get down to brass tacks, let us first consider a general overview of the concept….. Freedom of Association.

 

CONCEPT OF FREEDOM

The word Freedom, has been succinctly rendered by Oxford Advanced Dictionary, as ‘the condition of being free, the power to Act or Speak or Think, without externally imposed restraints.’

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION on the other hand, encompasses both an individual’s right to join or leave groups voluntarily, the right of the group to take collective action to pursue the interest of it’s members and the right of an association to accept or decline membership based on certain criteria.

According to the Human Rights House Foundation, Freedom of Association is one of the most basic rights enjoyed by humans. It ensures that every individual is free to organize and to form and participate in groups, either formally or informally.

Freedom of association involves an individual’s right to come together with other individuals to collectively express, promote, pursue and/or defend common interests without interference, and the right of the group to take collective action to pursue the interests of its members.   The right to freedom of association protects associations formed to undertake any activity or pursue any objective that an individual can undertake or pursue alone, provided that those activities or objectives are lawful. Freedom of association is a fundamental human right that is crucial to the functioning of a democracy and an essential condition for the exercise of other human rights. It provides space for the development of civil and political society, an arena for people to express different views, values or interests and a platform for such views, values or interests to be heard. Freedom of association complements and consolidates other individual freedoms and without it, individuals may not express themselves as a group, defend their common interests and positively contribute to the development of their societies.

 

BACKGROUND TO THE PRINCIPLE OF FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The principle of freedom of association constitutes one of the basic tenets of the International Labor Organization (ILO) that was established by the TREATY Of VERSAILLES Of 1919, (source: Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa)  in the wake of the first world war to improve the condition of workers and achieve universal peace through social justice.  The ILO conventions on freedom of association were, and continue to be, primarily focused on the protection of the right to organize and bargain collectively.

 

Freedom of association is closely linked with the freedom of assembly and both are protected by Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The right is interrelated with other human rights and freedoms, such as the rights to freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Giving the freedom of association protection in national and international law was not primarily to protect individual interests, but rather to seek to secure a more equitable distribution of power within the working environment and society as a whole. But individuals do deserve legal protection in this as other contexts so that their conscience, religious beliefs, freedom of expression, bodily integrity and so forth are safeguarded.

Consequently, freedom of association is both an individual and a collective human right.

 

LEGAL FRAMEWORK GOVERNING THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The combined efforts of both the Domestic, Regional and International frameworks, all ensure equality of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

DOMESTIC LEGAL FRAMEWORK

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(1999) as amended, remains the ground norm of the land, and it is sacrosanct. The extent of its supremacy is spelt out in Section 1(3) to wit: ‘if any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this constitution, this constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void’

Of specific interest to the subject matter are the unambiguous provisions of Sections 38, 39 & 40

Section 38(1) ‘ Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…..”

Section39(1) “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference.”

Section 40 “ Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest

 

REGIONAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK

Article 10(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides that “everyone shall have the right to free association provided that he abides by the law.”

Articles 12(3), 27(2) and 28 of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance guarantee the right to freedom of association.

ACHPR/Res. 5(XI)92: Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Association (1992)

  • The competent authorities should not override constitutional provisions or undermine fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and international standards;
  • In regulating the use of this right, the competent authorities should not enact provisions which would limit the exercise of this freedom;
  • The regulation of the exercise of the right to freedom of association should be consistent with state’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

 

INTERNATIONAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK

Article 20(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to peaceful assembly and association.”

Similarly Article 22(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

The second paragraph of Article 22 of the ICCPR states that no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right “other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society.”

Article 5(ix) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination also provides for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Article 7(c) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women obligates states to ensure participation, by women, in non-governmental organisations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.

Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has similar provisions to the ICEDAW.

“States have an obligation to respect and fully protect the rights of all individuals to assemble peacefully and associate freely, including persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs and human rights defenders… seeking to exercise or to promote their rights and to take all necessary measures to ensure that any restrictions on the free exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law.”

– UN Human Rights Council Resolution 21/26 (2012)

 

  • Article 11(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

Article 11(2) of the European Convention states that “no restriction shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protections of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The European Convention no. 124 on the Recognition of the Legal Personality of International Non-Governmental Organisations gives recognition to the formation of associations, foundations and other private institutions

The American Convention on Human Rights Art 16(1) states that “everyone has the right to associate freely for ideological, religious, political, economic, labour, social, cultural, sports, or other purposes.”

 

DUTIES AND OBLIGATIONS OF THE STATE IN ENSURING FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

It is the responsibility of the state to respect, protect and facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of association.

States have a negative obligation to refrain from any interference with the right to freedom of association. It is responsible for violations of this right when the infringement occurs as a result of state interference or its failure to secure the right in domestic law and practice.

In Civil Liberties Organization v. Nigeria, Comm. No. 101/93 (1995), ACHPR, the Commission held that “freedom of association is enunciated as an individual right and it is first and foremost a duty for the state to abstain from interfering with the free formation of associations. There must always be a general capacity for citizens to join, without state interference, in associations in order to attain various ends.”

In International Pen and Others (on behalf of Ken Saro-Wira) v. Nigeria, ACHPR Comm. No 154/96 (1998), the African Commission found a violation of the right to freedom of association where the government took action against an association due to disapproval of its actions.  “Communication 154/96 alleges that Article 10.1 was violated because the victims were tried and convicted for their opinions, as expressed through their work in MOSOP. In its judgment, the Tribunal held that by their membership in MOSOP, the condemned persons were responsible for the murders, guilt by association, it would seem furthermore that, government officials at different times during the trial declared MOSOP and the accused guilty of the charges, without waiting for the official judgment. This demonstrates a clear prejudice against the organization MOSOP, which the government has done nothing to defend or justify. Therefore the Commission finds a violation of Article 10.1.” (at para 108).

 

The state has a positive obligation to ensure respect for the right to freedom of association. This includes an obligation to protect associations from interference by third parties and non-state actors.

Further, the state has a positive obligation to enact legislation an/or implement practices to protect the right to freedom of association from the interference of non-state actors, in addition to refraining from interference itself. The principle extends to cases of infringement committed by private individuals that the state could or should have prevented.

The positive obligation of the state to facilitate the exercise of the right includes creating an enabling environment in which formal and informal associations can be established and operate. This may include an obligation to take positive measures to overcome specific challenges that confront certain persons or groups such as minorities, people living with disabilities, women and youth etc. in their efforts to form associations.

 

States have an obligation to respect and fully protect the rights of all individuals to assemble peacefully and associate freely, including persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs and human rights defenders, seeking to exercise or to promote their rights.

It is first and foremost a duty for the state to abstain from interfering with the free formation of associations. There must always be a general capacity for citizens to join, without state interference, in associations in order to attain various ends.

Freedom of association also protects the right to refuse to join an association. There is no right for any individual to join a particular association if other members of the group decide not to include them or to expel them on the basis that their membership was not compatible with the aim and interests of the association. However, in relation to trade unions, if a decision not to include a person has adverse employment consequences, any such decision must not be unreasonable or arbitrary.

The right to freedom of association protects against the interference of the State in both the right to form an association and the right to join or remain a member of an existing one. The state is also obligated to guard against interference with the right by non-state actors and facilitate the exercise of freedom of association by creating an enabling environment in which associations can operate.

 

  • IT SHOULD FURTHER BE NOTED THAT Associations have the right to participate in matters of political and public debate, regardless of whether the position taken is in accord with government policy or advocates for a change in law.

“There is nothing…to suggest that it is immoral or unlawful to persuade those in power to change certain laws as long as that is done lawfully and peacefully. If the change advocated for is in the views of the lawmakers, likely to lead to or promote unlawfulness or any other undesirable situation or consequences, they are perfectly entitled to refuse to accede to such suggested changes. To refuse the applicants an opportunity to come together and register an organization to carry out peaceful and lawful advocacy for legal reforms…clearly violates their rights under the [Constitution]”

Thuto Rammoge v. Attorney General of Botswana, case no. MAHGB-000175-13 (High Court).

Legislation and policy concerning associations must be uniformly applied and must not discriminate against any person or group of persons on any grounds such as age, gender, gender identity, health condition, religion or belief, sexual orientation or other status. Membership or non-membership in an association shall not constitute grounds for the discriminatory treatment of persons.

Although an ‘association’ must have some degree of continuity, it need not have any formal or legal status (including legal personality) in order to be protected by international law.

The state cannot effectively negate the freedom of association by generally declaring the objectives of associations to be unlawful.

 

LEGAL EXCEPTIONS THAT NEGATES THE FULL ENJOYMENT OF FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

International human rights law allows restrictions to be imposed on rights where those restrictions are;

  • Provided by law,
  • Serve as a legitimate aim; and
  • Are necessary in a democratic society.
  • Prescribed by law– This implies that any restriction should have a basis in domestic law. Furthermore, the law itself should be of a certain quality; foreseeable as to its effect and accessible to the person concerned.
  • Legitimate aim– The interference in question should be necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder and crime, for the protection of health and morals or for the protection of rights and freedoms of others.

In Monim Elgak, Osman Hummeida & Amir Suliman (represented by International Federation for Human Rights & World Organisation Against Torture) v. Sudan, ACHPR Comm. No. 379/09 (2014), para 119, the ACHPR found that “the only reason that KCHRED and its director were targeted was on account of their perceived links with the ICC.  The Respondent State has not provided any information showing that the activities of the organization endangered national security, morality, or the rights of other people in Sudan.  In the circumstances, the Commission considers that the State’s interference with the activities of the organization and its staff was unjustifiable and arbitrary and finds a violation of Article 10 of the Charter.”

 

  • Necessary in a democratic society– This implies two conditions;
    • There has to be a pressing social need for the interference, and in particular,
    • The interference should be proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued. They must be proportionate to achieve their protective function; they must be the least intrusive instrument amongst those which achieve their protective function; they must be proportionate to the interest to be protected.
  • In Attorney General of Botswana v. Thuto Rammoge [2016] Civil Appeal No. CACGB-128-14, Botswana Court of Appeal held the Registrar violation of the LGBT group’s right to association was not a proportional restriction. “In my judgment the refusal of registration of a society to further address that social ill could only be justified if it could be shown clearly that the society proposed to actively participate in or to encourage the commission of crimes against those sections. That is not the case.  Nor can it be said to be proportional if a society formed to pursue a number of honourable objectives, including advocacy, public health and education, was refused registration purely because, in the subjective view of the Registrar (or of the Minister), it was suspected of being likely to promote unlawful activities.  There must, as I have said, be some evidential basis for such a conclusion.  Here there was none.”

 

JUDICIAL DECISIONS VIS-À-VIS FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION OF LGBTIQ MEMBERS

 

In 2013 in Kenya, the NGO Co-ordination Board refused to register an organization under the name Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council.  The Board defended its rejection on the basis that the proposed names were inconsistent with laws criminalizing same sex conduct.  The High Court in Nairobi held that the Kenyan Constitution guarantees every person the right to freely associate and form an association of any kind.  As the judiciary is enjoined to apply the Constitution without prejudice, the right to freedom of association must be realized for all persons regardless of sexual identity or gender.   The Board, as a state entity, is required to act in accordance with the Constitution regardless of the personal views of its members and public opinion holding that homosexuality is reprehensible.

The Court found that limiting the petitioners’ right to freedom or association was not justifiable under Article 24 of the Kenyan Constitution, since can only be limited if it is reasonable and justifiable in a “democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.”  The criminal ban on same sex conduct does not prohibit LBGT persons from existing or associating and thus is not reasonable nor justifiable.

Eric Gitari v Non-Governmental Organizations Co-Ordination Board [2015] eKLR, Petition No. 440 of 2013 (at paras 73-99).

 

In Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesera v Attorney-General Misc. Cause 33 of 2012, Freedom and Roam Uganda and Sexual Minorities of Uganda organized a workshop in order to train LGBTI activists.  The Minister of Ethics and Integrity ordered the forcible closure of the workshop, alleging that it was an illegal gathering of homosexuals prohibited by section 145 of the Ugandan Penal Code, which criminalizes same sex conduct.  The workshop organizers challenged the actions of the Minister as a violation of their constitutional rights to freedom of expression, political participation, freedom of association and assembly, and equality before the law.

The Ugandan High Court accepted that the applicants were exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.  Yet, it also found that Article 43 of the Ugandan Constitution, which allows justifiable limitations of human rights in the public interest, was applicable in this circumstance.  The Court found that the workshop promoted prohibited and illegal same sex acts and such promotion was prejudicial to the public interest, thus the Minister was justified and did not violate the applicants’ aforementioned rights.   The Ugandan High Court declared that the “promotion of morals is widely recognized as a legitimate aspect of public interest which can justify restrictions”.

 

In Pamela Adie v Corporate Affairs Commission (2018) Federal High Court of Abuja, the CAC refused the registration of an organization named Lesbian Equality and Empowerment Initiatives whose goal was to advocate for the rights of female sexual minorities. The CAC contended that the name could not be approved because it was misleading, offensive, contrary to public policy and violates an existing law that prohibits same-sex marriage in Nigeria.

The Court held that in so far as the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act is still operative in Nigeria and has not been repealed, the right to form same sex and gay unions and associations is prohibited and CAC was justified to have rejected the application for being in contravention of public policy and morality.

 

RECOMMENDATION

The right to freedom of Association is core to any society, it is an indispensable right in enabling citizens to monitor the Human rights situations in a country and to support the implementation of Human Rights policies. It is key for the work of Human Right defenders.

Registration should never serve as a tool to control the establishment of organizations, but rather as a tool to provide them with a legal status in jurisdictions that require such a measure.

Denying registration to NGOs that challenge or criticize the government is a violation of the right to freedom of association which forces civil action underground and delegitimizes NGO work. Registration as a form of repression also hinders the formation of an open and pluralistic society, by excluding civil society from public dialogue.

In many countries with a high level of civil society engagement and indeed an enabling environment, prior registration is not mandatory. If such regulations are in place, the UN has underlined that principles guiding the rule of law also apply to these regulations, meaning that they should be determinable, non-retroactive, lawful, proportional, non-discriminatory, and necessary. Furthermore, registration procedures should be expeditious, and not be used as a tool to slow down the establishment of organizations.

The possibility to appeal a decision should be included in the regulation, to provide civil society organizations with fair access to obtaining legal status. Provisions should not require re-registration, enabling organizations to be sustainable and look to the long-term.

Procedures governing the registration of civil society organizations play an important role in the control of civil society space. With this in mind, the power to limit the right to freedom of association must be appropriately framed. States should not impose lengthy, burdensome or overly bureaucratic registration processes, as this would undermine the effective functioning of NGOs.

In some countries, registration applications filed by associations can take up to a month to be considered for approval, while business registration is considered complete, the moment the application is filed.

Burdensome re-registration and reporting requirements usually do not meet the criterion of necessity, as they are solely used to control the activities of NGOs. Nor do they follow the principle of non-discrimination, as often more requirements are placed on civil society than on businesses. There are also doubts that such requirements are proportional, given the heavy requirements with regard to the budget of NGOs, in comparison to businesses for example.

CONCLUSION

FROM All The ABOVE CONSIDERATION, then comes the parody,… can the express provision of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2014, negate, subjugate and undermine the express provision of the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria?

Section 4(1) SSMPA “The registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, their sustenance, processions and meetings, is prohibited”

Section 40, 1999 constitution “ Every person SHALL be entitled to ASSEMBLE freely and ASSOCIATE with other persons and in particular he may FORM or BELONG to ANY political party, trade union or ANY OTHER ASSOCIATION for the protection of his interest”

THERE LIES THE PARODY, WHERE LIES THE SUPREMACY?

 

CAVEAT

Lawyers Alert hereby puts our readers on notice that this article is based on the writers opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of the organization except otherwise stated.

 

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SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS (SRHR) VIOLATIONS OF SEXUAL MINORITIES

By Doris U Innocent Esq

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Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights or SRHR is the concept of human rights applied to sexuality and reproduction and these rights are protected by international laws. SRHR guarantees a number of rights to individuals, some of these rights are; The right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, liberty and security of the person, the right to autonomy and bodily integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to be free from all forms of violence and coercion, the right to privacy, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual health; with the possibility of pleasurable, satisfying, and safe sexual experiences. In our society today, there are sexual minority groups which these laws seek to protect and among them are the Sexual minorities.

The concept of Sexual minorities is fairly new to our continent Africa and our country Nigeria. It is proven that man fights and opposes anything he is not familiar with. The concept is alien to our society’s tradition, culture, religion and beliefs. Thus the concept is met with hostility and adverse opposition. Most communities are part of the sexual minority groups presently, in Nigeria. Due to the peculiar nature of their circumstance, Sexual minorities suffer a lot of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) violations in the hands of members of the society. The passage of the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill (SSMPA) 2014 into law in Nigeria has heightened the rate of violations suffered by members. Over the years many of these groups have experienced homophobic stigma, discrimination and violence. This has driven sexual minorities to hide their identity and sexual orientation. Many fear a negative reaction from members of the society. Reports of indiscriminate arrests by law enforcement officers were also made from different parts of the country. These acts of injustice, discrimination and violence have led to the intervention of some civil society organizations in ensuring that the human rights of these affected persons are protected. It has also led to the rise of the SRHR movement in the country, which has consequently led to the nationwide awareness and sensitization programs held by different Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). This write up is aimed at giving you credible information on the SRHR violations of communities in Nigeria.

In partnership with AmplifyChange, Lawyers Alert an NGO, in the last two years has been monitoring and documenting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights violations in Nigeria. Within these two years, they have released findings on these rights violations with regard to the sexual minorities. Their findings are published and updated every six months. Their reports can be found at http://www.lawyersalertng.org/res.php

This documentation is done via their online tool styled “LadockT” http://colahr.org/lawyersalert/index.php  which automatically analyzes these violations across locations with regard to State and Local Government.

It is important to note that, as it relates to Nigeria as a geographical entity, the findings here may not represent the entire facts nationally. The project that birthed this tool is focused in 12 states.

Nevertheless, these findings are critical owing to their veracity and mode of collation.

Based on the analysis on communities, Ikeja in Lagos State has the highest reported violation rate, followed by Kosofe in the same Lagos State, while Gboko in Benue State ranks third on violation rate. Damban in Bauchi State and Gwagwalada in the Federal Capital Territory both rank forth. Lastly Biu in Bornu State ranks the least with regards to MSM violation rate.

On the analysis of age range with regards to these groups, 25-40 years and 20-24 year both have the highest violation rate with 38% while 10-19 years with 24%.

Information gotten from the Lawyers Alert’s tool shows the report of violations as regard to the group, within the time range ( July, 2017 – April, 2019) 20-24 years and 25-40 years has been leading age group in the increase to reported violations in local government areas in States, followed closely by 10 – 19 years age group. From the tool it is also shown that, Physical abuse and Verbal Abuse have the highest reported violation rate with 13%. Followed closely by Emotional Abuse having 12%, Blackmailing and Sexual Expression both rank third with 11% each. Personal Security and Freedom to Associate both rank fourth with 10% respectively. Forced Detention has 7%, Freedom of Movement and Economic Abuse both have 6% each. Quality Healthcare has 4%, Harassment has 3%. Privacy has 2%, Sexual Exploitation and Rape both have the least amount with 1% each. These facts are stated more clearly in the table below.

VIOLATION TYPES – MSM JULY 2017 APRIL 2019
Physical Abuse 13%
Rape 1%
Verbal Abuse 13%
Harassment 3%
Emotional Abuse 12%
Freedom to Associate 10%
Economic Abuse 6%
Blackmailing 11%
Privacy 2%
Freedom of Movement 6%
Quality Healthcare 4%
Sexual Expression 11%
Personal Security 10%
Forced detention 7%
Sexual Exploitation. 1%

 

It is hoped that this document will help to highlight the dangers of communities exposed to. It should also be stated that the data represented in this report is based only on that obtained from the Lawyers Alert online portal. It is important to note that, all violations recorded were verified. Flowing from all of the above it is clear that members of  communities, are beginning to speak up and that the society is becoming a more SRHR conscious one with regard to communities. Nevertheless, there is still need for more awareness programs as many victims of these violations are still stuck in their shells and many more members of the society need to be enlightened.

 

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SRHR with Regards to LGBTI Community

by Solumtochukwu P. Ozobulu  Esqlgbti

Sexual and reproductive health right (SRHR) is a growing movement around the world and in Nigeria. The movement is borne out of the need to encourage individuals to explore their sexuality without fear of stigmatization, physical abuse or any other kind of violation as a matter of Right.

The growing nature of SRHR movement is aimed at protecting the vulnerable and Key Affected Persons including the LGBTI community. LGBTI is an acronym for Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Trans- gender and Inter- sex. This community with a different and peculiar kind of sexuality has been viewed with negative and discriminatory tendencies especially in Nigeria and other African Countries. This unfortunate trend has sent the LGBTI Community into hiding due to the legal, social and religious environment in our country with attendant consequences.

It is no news in Nigeria that many LGBTI Persons are still being denied key sexual and reproductive health rights and services i.e. their right to enjoy control over and make decisions on their sexual and reproductive health without discrimination.

The homophobic nature of the citizenry draws its link from socio-cultural and religious beliefs and practices. The culture of the people of Nigeria largely frowns at homo sexual practice as it is said to be foreign to the indigenous practices and beliefs. The religious beliefs and teachings also view same sex practice as sinful, unnatural and therefore unacceptable.

The aggregate Socio Cultural opposition to same sex practice and relationships in Nigeria led to the enactment of the same sex marriage (prohibition) Act 2014. The same sex marriage (prohibition) Act together with the criminal and penal code totally criminalizes homosexual activities in Nigeria. According to the words of the criminal/ Penal code,  homosexual act is regarded as “an act against the order of nature”. The maximum punishment in the northern states that have adopted the sharia law is death by stoning among other punishments. That law applies to all Muslims and to those who have voluntarily consented to application of the sharia courts. In the southern Nigeria the maximum punishment for same sex sexuality activity is 14years imprisonment. The various laws forbidding gay practice providing different punishment varying from the state of commission did not take into cognizance the sexual and reproductive health rights of the LGBTI community.

The provision/ enacting of the laws led to an unprecedented violations of the Rights of the LGBTI community in Nigeria even on grounds of suspicion and hearsay.For example in Lagos Nigeria, over 40 Young People were arrested on the suspicion of holding a gay party. The different violations range from physical abuse, verbal abuse, denial of freedom of association, denial of privacy, emotional abuse, rape, denial of quality healthcare among others. These various violations of the LGBTI community prevailed in Nigeria as both the law enforcement agencies and individuals took justification from the various laws prohibiting homosexuality to violate the rights of the sexual minorities at random.

Since most members of the LGBTI community  are seemingly oblivious of their sexual and reproductive health rights, they find it difficult to open up by reporting these violations due to fear of stigmatization. This has led to strong need for  massive sensitization and awareness creation in the area of sexual and reproductive health right and reporting of violations for effective interventions by Civil society organizations and Nongovernmental organizations both local and international in Nigeria.

Part of this sensitization is currently being carried out by Lawyers Alert in its legal literacy project for vulnerable groups in Nigeria. The positive effect of the sensitization is that more awareness of the Rights of KAPs is being recorded across Nigeria, leading  to a decrease in some violations. This can be clearly seen in the Lawyers Alert published findings on Sexual and Reproductive Health Right violations in Nigeria between 2017 and 2019. These findings can be accessed at http://www.lawyersalertng.org/res.php.

 

According to the recent released report of Lawyers Alert on its website in April 2019, Benue state seems to have the highest rate of LGBTI violations among other states in Nigeria. It can be deduced from the published finding that the age bracket more susceptible to be violated in the LGBTI community are those between 20-24years which can be categorized as youth with 58% of violations in 2019 and 63% in 2017. Although the statistics shows a level of decrease yet it is alarming. A critical analysis of the reports brings to limelight the occurance of these right violations, while some are on the increase others are on the decrease. Violations like physical abuse breach of privacy, denial of freedom to associate, sexual expression and  rape seems to be on the increase with 2%, 3%, 4%,1% and 4% respectively while blackmailing, verbal abuse and emotional abuse are on the decrease with 5%, 1% and 2% respectively. Regardless of the increase and decrease of each of the violations emotional abuse still top the chart as it represents 20% of the violations followed by verbal abuse and denial of sexual expression with 18% each. Although some of the right violations like rape and breach of privacy e.t.c represent a little fraction of the violation but it is important to know that every little piece matters when it is in relations to a person’s sexual and reproductive health right.

It is trite to know that the published finding is not all inclusive as just reports from 12 states out of the 36 states in Nigeria were used. Nevertheless, it shows the growth of SRHR movement and the need to deepen and expand the scope in other to curb the menace.

As we all aspire to be part of a society where individuals have knowledge, skills and resources to enjoy their sexual and reproductive health right without violations and subsequently bequeath same to future generations; there is a need to deepen sensitization on sexual and reproductive health right.

 

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Nigeria Rebukes UN High Commissioner For Pushing LGBT as Human Rights

NEW YORK, July 10 (C-Fam) Nigeria publicly chastised the UN human rights office for trampling on universally-agreed rights as it seeks to impose same sex marriage and outlaw commonly-held views on homosexuality. The sharp rebuke accused the UN officials of infringing on the right to democracy, religious freedom, and cultural standards that strengthen families.

The statement, delivered last week in Geneva, came in response to a report released last month by the UN human rights office. The report on discrimination and violence against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity criticizes laws protecting children from LGBT propaganda and condemns therapy to help people with unwanted sexual attractions. Expressing negative views on homosexuality contributes to violence, the report claims.

The UN report, which governments are free to ignore but which will be used to pressure them, also tells countries to legalize same sex marriage or unions, and provide benefits.

The majority of countries define marriage as the union of a man and woman. Nigeria strengthened its law in 2014.

Nigeria rebuked the UN officials for disrespecting the democratic process and endangering universally-agreed human rights.

Religious freedom and cultural rights are “fundamental parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Nigeria stated. Countries have a “duty to ensure the family values, the religious values and the cultural values of its citizens are protected,” which are “the bedrock of the moral values of the individual.”

Nigeria’s marriage law “is intended to uphold and strengthen these values.”

Nigeria has the largest population in Africa and the majority of its 170 million citizens are Christian or Muslim.

The law “synchronizes” Nigeria’s culture, traditions, and two main religions, all of which reject “unreservedly, same sex marriage, homosexuality, lesbianism, gay and transgender attitudes.”

The Nigerians also said gay rights and orientation “will limit population” and “impose unintended consequences on the family as an institution.”

The UN human rights office ramped up its campaign to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) behavior in 2011, based on a Human Rights Council resolution expressing “grace concern” at violence and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The recent report concedes “data are patchy” on homicides. Persons identified as LGBT may be targeted by terrorist groups, and are victims of honor killings.

But the UN report strays from acts of violence to lump in expressing religious beliefs and counseling. It “condemns” reparative therapy to help with unwanted homosexual attractions, and describes statements on homosexuality by Catholic leaders as contributing to stigma and violence against adolescents and children.

Legalizing same sex marriage is not required, the report concedes, yet goes on to tell countries to recognize same sex unions. Countries should run public education campaignson sexual orientation and repeal policies that impact rights to health, education, work, housing and social security – providing an opening for attacks on faith-based organizations and individuals that decline to participate or assist in homosexual activities.

The UN human rights office is currently mired in scandal and rumors of corruption. Its officials are accused of mishandling an investigation of French soldiers sexually abusing African boys. Staffers are rumored to be cozy with officials from governments seeking to influence decisions inside the UN office.

Nordic countries funded the UN office’s campaign for LGBT rights, even as the UN human rights chief pled for funding to do its basic work.

Privately African and other delegates express immense frustration at what they see as an obsession with LGBT issues by UN personnel and some governments.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2015 in Human Rights

 

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An Easy Target: Homophobia For Political Ends

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Human Rights

 

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LAWYERS COME TOGETHER TO PROVIDE LEGAL ASSISTANCE TO KEY POPULATIONS AND VULNERABLE GROUPS

Volunteer Lawyers across 23 states in Nigeria came together in Abuja between the 2nd to 6th of February 2015 to educate themselves on the plight of key population and vulnerable groups in Nigeria at a training organized by Lawyers Alert a human rights NGO, with the support of UNAIDS Nigeria office.

At the end of the meeting, the lawyers numbering over 30, resolved to act under a coalition with the specific mandate of servicing vulnerable groups to include Persons Living with HIV, Persons with Disabilities, Women and other key populations impacted most by HIV.

The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof Chidi Odinkalu who was present at the meeting, emphasized the anti-human rights effect of discrimination and stigmatization, stating human rights are universal and interdependent. While we may not agree on everything, we must respect the right of others nonetheless he stated. He commended the lawyers for the bold initiative and assured them of the NHRC support at all times.

UNAIDS Country Director, Dr Camara Bilali, who was also present, commended the lawyers for their passion, commitment and sacrifice in terms of free representation of key population. The challenges are enormous in the sphere of policy, laws and other interventions, and lawyers are best equipped to tackle these, given their training, spread and community presence he stated.

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Rommy Mom, President of Lawyers Alert, said he was particularly excited at the prospect of what can be achieved going forward in terms of legal representation to these vulnerable groups by the initiative. He commended his Colleagues for their volunteerism while wishing more lawyers could be coopted from other states going forward.

At the end of the 3 day training the lawyers resolved to come together under a Coalition of “Lawyers for Rights of Vulnerable Groups” for the purpose of legal aid and other interventions on behalf of Persons Living With HIV, Persons With Disabilities, Women, Sex Workers, Sexual Minorities, etc.

A Participant from Maiduguri in Borno state, Barrister Merama Balami, and Barrister  Abigail Dahiru from Gombe, in Gombe state stated not minding the insurgency, they will work within the spaces provided to also reach out to Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, within the context of key populations.

Participants were presented with certificates at the end of the training.

The Coalition resolved to hold an inaugural meeting in the very near future to develop a strategic plan to guide them in the first three years of their work.

 

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Nigerian Gay activist Bisi Alimi speaks on living with HIV and how he was nearly killed for being gay

In an interview with NPR.com, Nigerian Gay rights activist, Bisi Alimi, who was the first person to come out as gay on Nigerian TV, talked about the challenges of living as a gay Nigerian man, living with the HIV virus, his relationship with his immediate family members and also about the Nigerian anti-gay law. Find excerpts from the revealing interview below…

Alimi’s acting career was just starting to take off when his sexuality stole the spotlight. The student newspaper at University of Lagos, where he was studying theater, threatened to publish a photo of him with his then-boyfriend. So Alimi beat them to the punch. He went on “New Dawn with Funmi,” one of the most popular talk shows in Nigeria, and challenged a long-held belief that homosexuality was brought to Africa by white colonizers. That was also the year Alimi was diagnosed with HIV.

Suddenly, his home country no longer saw him as a rising star. Alimi lost his roles on TV and on stage, many of his friends shunned him and the police even arrested him on unexplained charges. In 2007, things got worse. He was detained at the airport on his way back from the United Kingdom, where he gave an interview to BBC Network Africa, and was released two days later. Then a group of men entered his home and attempted to kill him. Alimi fled to the U.K. and hasn’t been back to Nigeria since.

Why are you happy about Nigeria’s harsh anti-gay law? 
I see the law as a catalyst for change for good in Nigeria. You don’t understand what it is like to fight a beast that you cannot see. Before the signing of that law, between 95 and 98 percent of Nigerians were in support of it. The latest poll says 88 percent of Nigerians now support the law. That’s a 10 percent drop. Some people who are not LGBT are now saying, “Did we just support a law that criminalizes people … for falling in love?” [When] you see that your uncle or cousin is gay, it kind of changes the conversation.

Speaking of family, how does your family feel about your identity?
I’m in a relationship that I can’t talk to my parents about — it’s like a big elephant in the room. But [the fact that] they want to accept me [as gay] is a form of support.
I was diagnosed [with HIV] in 2004, and I’ve never discussed it with my parents. This is my personal life, and I don’t want them to get involved with it. Many times when I struggle with the challenges of being gay and being [HIV] positive, even living in diaspora and so many other things, I just really want to have somebody I can cry to who has blood lineage but I just said no.
So who is in your support network?
Mostly close friends. Many times it’s people I don’t know. I remember one incident when I was at my university. I was going back to my room at night and I was stopped by two guys. They were making very derogatory statements and becoming really aggressive. There was a [student] coming. So I raised my voice: “What did I do to you, why are you guys so frustrated with me?” ]The student] stopped and said, “What’s going on?” I told her these guys were attacking me, and they said, “Oh he’s gay, he’s a faggot.” She just looked at them and said, “What if he’s a faggot? What’s your problem?” She stood up to them. These are the unsung heroes of my existence because anything could have happened that night.
Back in 2007, a group of guys tried to kill you and that’s when you fled the country. But did you ever want to leave Nigeria before then?
I was lucky enough to go through a 2-hour ordeal of being beaten and almost being shot in the head and escaping. If those guys are still alive, they might have read one or two of my interviews. I wonder how they feel that they almost killed me. But I felt that leaving was never a choice until my mother said, “Do you still have reason [to stay]? I think you should leave.”
How did you react when when you were diagnosed with HIV?
By 2001 I started working in HIV prevention because I lost my best friend [to the disease]. So I was kind of aware. That was why my diagnosis was a shock to me. I broke down and started crying and thought like this is the end of my life because I have seen my friends die. It’s such a big thing that even within the gay community, if you’re positive, that’s the end of it. Nobody wants to talk to you or date you, but you become the story everyone wants to talk about. So I didn’t tell anybody. I carried it for three years before leaving Nigeria. I didn’t start medication until 2009.
If you had known about the treatments and support for HIV then, would you have reacted differently?
No, because then I might still be in Nigeria. And I still wouldn’t want to talk about it because it would still be a death sentence. Treatment is a big challenge and people [in Nigeria] still don’t have access to it. And the support system is still not there because of the stigma against gay men — it’s a belief that [HIV] is a punishment from God. So it’s very difficult to exist with that system.
How would you assess the progress across Africa in providing HIV treatment?
We are still betraying generations when it comes to HIV prevention and treatment. Many people still need access to this treatment and we still have children being born with the virus when we know we can prevent it. We’re lacking political willpower and funding to HIV projects. It has become a political game.
Being an advocate gives you a different kind of stage than acting does. If you had a choice, would you go back in to acting?
I think I studied theater because I was pretty much a drama queen [laughs]. Acting is my biggest passion. The unfortunate thing is that it’s something I would never touch again because it left a big scar in my life. Even when I did try to go back to acting, I kept thinking, “If you keep doing this, you’re going to bring up media interest again.” I have media interest now but it’s very humane. It’s not about who I kissed last night or who I’m hanging out with.
So you’re done with theater?
If there’s anything I want to go back to, it’s acting. I want to be back on stage dancing and acting, but I’m also very scared of it.
 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in Human Rights

 

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