May 17 was international day against homophobia. As UNAIDS noted at the time, “Of the 192 member states of the United Nations, 85 have laws that still criminalize homosexual behavior.” Apparently one of those countries is Malawi, where a gay couple was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor and imprisonment for…being a gay couple.*
Fortunately, this case has attracted worldwide attention. The UN’s top human rights official Navi Pillay issued a scathing statement:
I am shocked and dismayed by the sentence and reports of the treatment of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga while in detention,” Pillay said. “The law which enabled the conviction dates back to the colonial era and has lain dormant for a number of years – rightly so, because it is discriminatory and has the effect of criminalizing and stigmatizing people based on perceptions of their identity. If this was replicated worldwide, we would be talking about the widespread criminalization of millions of people in consensual relationships and the rampant violation of privacy.”
“Laws that criminalize people on the basis of their sexual orientation are by their nature discriminatory, and as such are in apparent violation of a number of key international treaties and instruments, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights*,” Pillay said “Unfortunately they still exist in quite a number of countries across the world. The trend should be towards getting rid of them, as is the case with other forms of discrimination. Instead, some countries, including Malawi, seem to be heading in the opposite direction.”
First Uganda and now Malawi. These are dangerous trends, so it is good to see that the world is watching. Here’s a clip from CBS News.
*Via twiter, Audacia Ray points out that Tiwonge is a transgender woman, not a gay man. Audacia also passes along this video from the group gender dynamix, which attended the protest.