By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
LILONGWE, Malawi—Moving against the grain in Africa, Malawi’s government is now moving to get rid of laws against homosexuality and has ordered law enforcement officers not to arrest people for same-sex acts until the country’s anti-gay laws are reviewed by Malawi’s parliament. Human Rights Watch called Malawi’s decision “courageous” and hoped that it would inspire other African countries that criminalize homosexuality to follow suit.
Malawi’s anti-gay laws, which are some of the toughest in the world, can put someone in jail for up to 14 years with hard labor. Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara last week said that parliament will soon meet to discuss these laws.
Several months ago, in May, President Joyce Banda made an announcement that she wants to repeal Malawi’s laws against homosexual acts going against the continent’s trend in which gays are consistently singled out for criminal prosecution. Many traditionalists and religious leaders condemned the President saying that she was only doing this to try to please Western donor nations. These traditionalists further argue that homosexuality is alien to Malawi’s cultural and religious values.
Malawi received a lot of attention in December 2009 after law enforcement officers arrested the country’s first openly gay couple. The couple spent five months in jail without bail until they received another sentence of 14 years in jail after their conviction five months later in May 2010. Eventually the two were pardoned after the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s arm-twisting of the late President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Tiseke Kasambala, a Malawian who is the Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch said, “Malawi has taken a bold step forward, putting respect for its own constitutional guarantees of equality front and center.” Kasambala further added “Malawi’s decision has given hope to thousands who risk prison sentences under such laws.” Amnesty International also noted that Malawi took a “historic step in the fight against discrimination in the country.”
According to Human Rights Watch, at least 76 countries, 38 in Africa, actually criminalize consensual same sex conduct. Human rights organizations around the world hope that these countries follow the lead of Malawi and take a closer look at their homosexuality laws.
For further information, please see:
Angola Press – Rights Group Laud Malawi on Gay Law Moratorium – 8 November 2012
The Washington Post – Malawi Government Moves to Suspend Law Against Homosexuality – 8 November 2012
Yahoo News – Malawi Lauded on Anti-Gay Law Moratorium – 8 November 2012
The Maravi Post – Society Human Rights Watch Lauds Malawi on Homophobic Law Moratorium – 7 November 2012