Global perspective Human stories

UN human rights chief denounces ‘draconian’ anti-homosexuality law in Nigeria

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
Violaine Martin
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

UN human rights chief denounces ‘draconian’ anti-homosexuality law in Nigeria

The United Nations human rights chief today voiced her alarm at a “draconian” new law in Nigeria that further criminalizes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, organizations and activities, as well as people who support them.

“Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “Rights to privacy and non-discrimination, rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention: this law undermines all of them.”

Nigeria’s Senate approved a revised version of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill in December, and President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Act into law earlier this month, according to a news release issued by the High Commissioner’s Office (OHCHR).

The Act includes a provision for a 14-year prison term for anyone who enters into a same sex union, and a 10-year prison term for anyone who ‘administers, witnesses, abets or aids’ a same sex marriage or civil union ceremony.

The law states that ‘a person or group of persons who … supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.’

“Even before this Act was signed into law, consensual same sex relationships were already criminalized in Nigeria – violating rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination, both of which are protected by the Nigerian Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nigeria has ratified,” Ms. Pillay stated.

“This draconian new law makes an already bad situation much worse,” she said. “It purports to ban same-sex marriage ceremonies but in reality does much more.

“It turns anyone who takes part in, witnesses or helps organize a same sex marriage into a criminal. It punishes people for displaying any affection in public towards someone of the same sex. And in banning gay organizations it puts at risk the vital work of human rights defenders who speak up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.”

The High Commissioner warned that the law also risks reinforcing existing prejudices towards members of the LGBT community, and may provoke an upsurge in violence and discrimination. She expressed hope that the Supreme Court of Nigeria would review the constitutionality of the new law as soon as possible.

Voicing similar concerns was the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the UN-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, both of which feared that the new law could prevent access to essential HIV services for LGBT people who may be at high risk of infection.

According to UNAIDS, Nigeria has the second largest HIV epidemic globally – in 2012, there were an estimated 3.4 million people living with HIV in Nigeria. In 2010, national HIV prevalence in the country was estimated at 4 per cent among the general population and 17 per cent among men who have sex with men.

“The provisions of the new law in Nigeria could lead to increased homophobia, discrimination, denial of HIV services and violence based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity,” noted UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. “It could also be used against organizations working to provide HIV prevention and treatment services to LGBT people.”

UNAIDS and the Global Fund urged Nigeria to put comprehensive measures in place to protect the ongoing delivery of HIV services to LGBT people in Nigeria without fear of arrest or other reprisals.