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President Should Veto Anti-LGBT Bill, Violates Freedom of Expression – Human Rights Watch

Under international human rights law, countries are required to safeguard the rights of people regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

Ghana’s parliament on February 28, 2024 passed a draconian bill that increases criminal penalties for consensual same-sex conduct and criminalizes individuals and organizations who advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, Human Rights Watch said today. President Nana Akufo Addo should unequivocally reject the bill and refuse to sign it.

Members of parliament introduced the bill, the “Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill,” in 2021. In addition to expanding criminalization of advocacy for the rights of LGBT people, the bill criminalizes failure to report an LGBT person to the authorities and to report anyone who uses their social media platform to produce, publish, or disseminate content promoting activities prohibited by the bill.

“The anti-LGBT rights bill is inconsistent with Ghana’s long-standing tradition of peace, tolerance, and hospitality and flies in the face of the country’s international human rights obligations,” said Larissa Kojoué, researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Such a law would not only further erode the rule of law in Ghana, but could also lead to further gratuitous violence against LGBT people and their allies.”

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The current law punishes same-sex conduct between men with a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Under the new bill, anyone who identifies as LGBT or any sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary of male and female commits a misdemeanor and is liable on conviction to a fine of between 750 and 5,000 penalty units (from US$750 to 4,700), or a prison term between two months and three years, or both.

After the introduction of the bill in 2021, twenty-one LGBT activists were unlawfully arrested and detained for holding a human rights education meeting, on the ground that they were promoting homosexuality and that the gathering was an unlawful assembly. Police also raided a center for the LGBT community and the center was subsequently shut down.

The bill had its first parliamentary reading in 2022, after which point the Constitution Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee reviewed the bill and reported to parliament about it. The committee recommended passing the bill, in part because the bill allegedly had substantial popular support from Ghanaians.

The committee failed to acknowledge documented submissions by various experts, such as the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, saying that dignity, equality, and nondiscrimination should apply to everyone, including LGBT people and their allies. A coalition of 18 civil society groups, known as the “Big 18,”  and Human Rights Coalition, opposed the bill from the beginning, saying that it violates key fundamental human rights provisions in Ghana’s Constitution such as the rights to dignity, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and academic freedom, equality and nondiscrimination.

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The debates about the bill attacks against LGBT people. have been associated with heightened attacks against perceived LGBT people. Similar trends occurred in other contexts in Africa in which the authorities have expanded criminal charges against LGBT people and their allies. In Uganda, for example, where parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in March 2023, local organizations have documented an increase in verbal and physical attacks on perceived LGBT people. The groups have also documented mob violence; arrests and detention of activists; loss of employment; closure of organizations; clampdowns on services provided to LGBT people, including HIV/AIDS services; families and friends disowning LGBT people and forcing them out of their homes; and assaults on LGBT students.

After the passage of the bill, one prominent human rights activist in Accra said to Human Rights Watch: “We call on the president to uphold the values of democracy of the Constitution of Ghana…We cannot all leave the country. How can we be illegal in our own country just by existing? How can we be criminals?”

Under international human rights law, countries are required to safeguard the rights of people regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all of which Ghana has ratified, protect the rights to integrity and security of the person, as well as freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, including for LGBT people. Laws criminalizing same-sex conduct violate the rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination.

“Ghana’s assaults on LGBT rights contradict its self-image as one of the friendliest nations in the world, and a safe, peaceful and hospitable country,” Kojoué said. “The president should do the right thing by preserving civic space and protecting freedoms of speech and assembly, and veto the bill.”

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