Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gay rights come second to economics

The Nobel peace prize winner and president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has defended a law that criminalises homosexual acts, saying: "We like ourselves just the way we are..We've got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve..."

Liberian legislation classes "voluntary sodomy" as punishable by up to one year in prison, but two new bills have been proposed that would target homosexuality with much tougher sentences. One would amend the penal code to make a person guilty of a second-degree felony if he or she "seduces, encourages or promotes another person of the same gender to engage in sexual activities" or "purposefully engages in acts that arouse or tend to arouse another person of the same gender to have sexual intercourse", carrying a prison sentence of up to five years. The second bill would make gay marriage a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The second bill was drafted by Jewel Howard Taylor, the ex-wife of the former president Charles Taylor, and she said "[Homosexuality] is a criminal offence. It is un-African...We consider deviant sexual behaviour criminal behaviour."

Homosexuality is already illegal in 37 African countries. In Uganda, a bill proposing custodial sentences for homosexuality is still being considered, although it no longer contains the provision for the death penalty. Ten women were recently arrested in Cameroon accused of being lesbians, while in Nigeria, homosexual activities are punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Sirleaf desperately needs the support of other MPs to tackle other issues such as corruption, exploitation of the country's natural resources and mass youth unemployment. "If she tried to decriminalise the [current anti-gay] law it would be political suicide," said Tiawan S Gongloe, the country's former solicitor general. So Sirleaf is prepared to sacrifice the human rights of one group of workers for the sake of the economy. And to think Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel peace prize for her work in campaigning for women's rights!


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