Arbitrary arrests in Ghana. Homophobic censorship in Kenya. Summaries of LGBT people in Rwanda. Human Rights Watch has highlighted each of these abuses over the past few days.
Protesters at the Ghanaian Consulate in New York City are calling for the anti-LGBTQ law to be passed, which is currently awaiting action in the Ghanaian Parliament. (Courtesy Photo by Rightify Ghana)
These are excerpts from HRW’s recent coverage of:
Extreme anti-LGBT law fuels hostility
Ghana: LGBT activists face hardship after being detained
Arbitrary arrests and detentions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Ghana and a proposed draconian anti-LGBT law are causing serious economic hardship and psychological stress for LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said.
In July, eight members of parliament introduced the Act to Promote Adequate Sexual Human Rights and the Ghanaian Family Values Act 2021, which would prohibit and criminalize any advocacy of LGBT identity. It is an insult to dignity, privacy and non-discrimination and an attack on freedom of expression, expression, association and assembly. The draft law is currently being examined by the parliamentary special committee on constitutional, legal and parliamentary affairs.
LGBT people are already punished harshly and arbitrarily in Ghana. On May 20, 2021, police in Ho in the Volta region illegally searched and illegally arrested 21 people, including a technician, during a training workshop to document and report human rights violations against LGBT people. They were detained for 22 days, then released on bail and charged with unlawful gathering. The case was later dropped for lack of evidence of a crime.
The police wrongly justified the arrests on the grounds that the training “promotes homosexuality” and that the gathering was an “illegal gathering”. Section 201 of the Ghana Criminal Code (Amendment) Act 2003 (Act 646) defines an unlawful gathering as a gathering of three or more people with the intent to commit a crime, which is clearly not applicable in this case, Human Rights Watch says.
“It is shocking that the police, who were supposed to protect Ghanaians, searched a peaceful meeting, arrested the participants and left them in harsh detention for three weeks on charges that should never have been brought,” said Wendy Isaack. LGBT lawyer at Human Rights Watch. “If the bill goes into effect in parliament, it will undoubtedly increase abuse against LGBT people.”
The activists said that eight police officers, accompanied by three journalists, broke into the conference room, assaulted some participants and confiscated training materials, laptops and diaries. Several heavily armed members of the Special Weapons and Tactics Unit (SWAT) waited for nurses and midwives outside the dormitory where the meeting was taking place to assist with the arrests. The activists were taken to Ho Police Headquarters, then back to the hostel, where their rooms were searched for “evidence” of a crime.
AG, a 25-year-old lesbian, describes the conditions in the cell in which she was held with four other women as dungeon-like, with no windows or lights. Activists brought them the only food and drinking water that they and their fellow inmates received.
“My family didn’t visit me when I was in the cells,” she says. “I felt suicidal and really wanted to die while I was there. Even though we’re bailed, I still have suicidal thoughts because that’s far from over. “
The experience of a 24-year-old IT student and equipment technician among those arrested illustrates the arbitrariness of the arrests and the dangers of the proposed law that would make any participation in lobbying for LGBT people illegal. He had been hired by the workshop organizers to fix their equipment and was waiting to be paid when the police arrived.
“I tried to explain to the police, but they refused to listen to me,” he says. “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He was detained with the others for 22 days and lost his job as a result.
The Ghanaian Parliament should ensure that any law it passes on the rights of LGBT people complies with international standards on freedom of expression. It should also take into account the 1993 Supreme Court ruling in New Patriotic Party v. Inspector General of Police reflect that, except in times of war or when a state of emergency has been declared, no law enforcement agency should suppress freedom of expression however unpopular. The court stated that all Ghanaians, including lesbians and homosexuals, have the right to freely express their views, to assemble and demonstrate to support those views and to spread those views.
For more information, read the full HRW article on Ghana.
Kenya is censoring another gay-themed film
The fight for the rights of LGBT people is not silenced
By Neela Ghoshal
Promotional image for Peter Murimi’s documentary “I Am Samuel”.
I never met Samuel, the gay Kenyan protagonist of the acclaimed documentary I Am Samuel. But I feel like I know him. Not only does filmmaker Peter Murimi convey a sense of intimacy and familiarity through his calm, steady, and honest portrayal of Samuel’s everyday life, but Samuel is the kind of person you know.
Because despite discrimination, laws that criminalize their relationships, and threats of violence, LGBT people in Kenya are normal people who lead normal lives. They work as construction workers like Samuel; as street vendors (street vendors), nurses, accountants and lawyers. When they live in Nairobi like Samuel, they visit their families in “shags” (Nairobi slang for rural places of origin) and find both similarities and differences with rural relatives who struggle to understand aspects of their urbanized life. When they find love, they celebrate and support a community of friends and often family members. Life isn’t easy when your government officially declares you a second-class citizen, but everyday life, challenges, and small joys remain, all documented as part of Samuel’s life in Murimi’s film.
On September 23, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) banned “I Am Samuel” claiming the film violated Kenyan values. What values? During my years in Kenya, I experienced values that I lived daily, including care and friendliness, tolerance and openness to differences. Kenya is diverse in every way: geographically, ethnically, religiously, and yes in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity. For over a decade, LGBT people have been publicly advocating their place in Kenya’s vibrant social fabric, challenging discrimination and demanding their rights.
KFCB may wish to silence them with flimsy claims that reduce Samuel and his partner Alex’s rich relationship to a “same-sex marriage agenda.” It won’t work; Censorship is rare. Like the lesbian film “Rafiki”, which was banned by the KFCB in 2018, Samuel’s story is seen by Kenyans who form their own opinion. In trying to force the blinkers on to deny the existence and rights of LGBT people, KFCB is on the wrong side of history.
For more information, see the full HRW article on Kenya.
Rwanda: Summaries Related to Commonwealth Meetings
Detention, mistreatment of the poor, gay and transgender people
According to Human Rights Watch, the Rwandan authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained more than a dozen gays and transgender people, sex workers, street children and others in the months leading up to a planned Commonwealth of Government (CHOGM) meeting in June 2021.
They were held in a transit center in the Gikondo district of the capital, Kigali, which is unofficially called “Kwa Kabuga”. The center is known for its harsh and inhumane conditions, which seem to have worsened due to the increased number of detainees and the pandemic. The CHOGM was initially planned for June 2020, postponed to June 2021 and finally postponed indefinitely in May.
“Rwanda’s strategy of promoting Kigali as a meeting and conference hub often means ongoing abuse of the capital’s poorest and most marginalized residents,” said Lewis Mudge, director of central Africa for Human Rights Watch. “With the meeting being postponed, Rwanda’s Commonwealth partners have a choice: either to stand up for the rights of the victims or to remain silent while crackdown on their behalf.”
In Gikondo, prisoners are held in overcrowded rooms in conditions well below Rwandan and international laws. Former detainees have indicated that they do not have enough food, water and medical supplies; suffer from frequent beatings; and are rarely allowed to leave dirty, overcrowded rooms. People were detained there without basic procedural standards. None of the former inmates interviewed were formally charged with a criminal offense, and none saw a prosecutor, judge or lawyer before or during their detention. There were no measures in place to protect people from Covid-19, and former inmates said they had no access to tests, soap, masks, or basic hygiene and sanitation.
Respondents who identified themselves as gay or transgender said security officials accused them of “not advocating Rwandan values”. They said that other inmates beat them because of their clothing and identity. Three other inmates held in the Gikondo “criminal” room confirmed that inmates and guards were more likely to beat people who were violent and known to be gay or transgender than others.
In the past, raids have been linked to high profile government events, and security forces could step up their efforts to “clean up” the streets of Kigali in advance. Human Rights Watch documented a similar raid on an African Union summit in Kigali in 2016. Ahead of the now postponed 2021 Commonwealth meeting, several former inmates said police had told them they didn’t want them on the streets during the event.
Rwanda is one of the few countries in East Africa that does not criminalize consensual same-sex relationships. Vagrancy, begging and sex work are not criminalized either. However, authorities continue to use the Gikondo Transit Center to detain people accused of “deviant behavior that is harmful to the public”, including street selling and homelessness.
“Based on past experience, it is very likely that similar patterns of abuse will emerge before a new date for the Commonwealth meeting is set,” Mudge said. “Imprisoning and abusing the marginalized just because the authorities believe they are damaging the image of their country is a violation of human dignity, and the leaders of the Commonwealth should not tolerate it.”
For more information, see the full HRW article on Rwanda.