Note: Rwanda does not criminalize homosexuality. Gay people live with no fear from the police or the law. They still face social stigma…
This is an Invitation to act, that I circulated in 2009. I dedicate it to my Ugandan brothers and sisters.
RE: SUPPORT FOR THE DECRIMINALISATION OF LBGTs IN THE DRAFT PENAL CODE
Dear Human Rights/ Health Defenders;
In the near future Rwanda may see the health, safety and freedoms of LGBTs seriously undermined, should the penal code be promulgated in its current draft form.
The newly proposed article 217 provides that: “Any person who encourages or sensitizes people of the same sex, to sexual relation or any sexual practice, shall be liable for a term of imprisonment ranging from five (5) to ten (10) years and fine ranging from Two Hundred thousand Rwanda Francs (200.000 Frw ) to one million (1,000,000)Rwanda francs.”
If promulgated, this article will not only make any form of homosexual activity illegal, any LGBT a criminal who is subject to punishment by an extensive jail term and/or substantial fine, but it will irreversibly and effectively suppress any kind of reflection debate and expression on LGBT rights by making such initiative an illegal activity subject to similar punishment.
The fact that there is a limited amount of time remaining before the article on LGBT rights is discussed significantly increases the urgency to act before the already difficult lives of LGBT individuals are made unbearable by the change. The Standing Committee on Political Affaires of the Chamber of deputies, which is reviewing the Penal Code, had debated up to Article 181 and went in extremis on recess and are due to reconvene early October.
LGBT is the acronym used to describe a group of sexual minorities which includes:
Lesbians: A women whose sexual orientation is to women; A female homosexual.
Gays: A man whose sexual orientation is to men; A male homosexual.
Bi-sexual: An individual whose sexual orientation is toward both men and women.
Transvestite: An individual who adopts the dress and sometimes the behavior traditionally associated with the opposite sex.
Transgender: An individual who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the sex the individual was assigned at birth
We are approaching you, as organizations principally concerned with health and human rights issues, because the situation of the LGBT community is highly relevant to both human well-being and a right to a life of dignity and respect. The oppression of LGBT individuals has serious implications for their physical well being as well as their emotional and psychological health. LGBT individuals often confront insurmountable barriers in accessing LGBT sensitive healthcare and information on healthy living practices. These difficulties are particularly salient in dealing with issues of Sexually Transmitted Infections such as HIV/AIDS which affect LGBT individuals differently than the population at large. Rwanda has made significant advances in dealing with HIV/AIDS, but criminalizing homosexuality will only contribute to reversing these accomplishments by deterring LGBT individuals from open discussion with healthcare providers.
The consequences of society’s negative attitudes toward LGBT individuals are deeply distressing. A high emotional and psychological toll resulting from widespread societal rejection is a daily reality for LGBT individuals. Society’s lack of sensitivity often extends to the level of the family where it cultivates distain and marginalization of LGBT individuals, even within their own homes. LGBT individuals are also frequent targets of hate-fueled acts of physical and verbal abuse. Many individuals turn to drug and alcohol abuse as a mechanism for escaping the hardships they face. Suicide is a tragically common phenomenon within the LGBT community. Ultimately the strain of dealing with the stigma and shame caused by a homophobic society may prove too great to wish to continue living. By the criminalizing LGBT, the law would dehumanize them and exposing them to unpredictable violence, such as the regrettable acts recently perpetrated on the members of the albinos group.
The proposed article is further troubling in that it contradicts several of the principals of the international human rights convention. Among the rights which would be violated under the article are: The right to Privacy and Family; the right to freedom of speech, assembly, and association; security of the person; health; the right to be free from torture and from cruel inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment; and the freedom from arbitrary deprival of liberty, etc.
LGBT individuals are frequently subject to these kinds of human rights abuses now; in the absence of a formal law against homosexuality. It is imperative that a legal platform which may be used to justify such rights violations is not established.
As we conduct the campaign, We request that you support the effort to ensure that the Rwandan government upholds its constitutional commitment to ensure equality before the law for all citizens. Support for the rights of the Rwandan LGBT community is support for the respect of the rule of law, support for the indivisibility and universality of human rights, and support for a more democratic and peaceful Rwanda.
Thank you for you kind consideration of this urgent matter.
Kigali, the 1st of September 2009
CORE GROUP OF CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS ADVOCATING FOR THE RIGHTS OF LGBTs.