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Thursday, 10 February 2011

In Malawi, lesbianism is now illegal

Source: African Activist

Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika has signed a bill into law that criminalises sex between two women. Malawi's penal code already prohibited sex between two men and the law was applied in the case of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza who were sentenced to 14 years in prison with hard labour for celebrating their love in what authorities called a traditional same-sex ceremony. Malawi also rejected pressure to comply with human rights obligations by the donor community.

Press Release from International Commission of Jurists:
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) expresses grave disappointment at Malawi’s recent enactment of a law criminalizing sexual relations between women. Such a law is an affront to human dignity and seriously undermines Malawi’s human rights commitments under international law.

The ICJ urges that the Parliament undertake an immediate review with an eye to repealing all laws that currently criminalize sexual activity on the basis of the sex of the partners.

In December 2010, the Parliament passed a bill amending the Penal Code of Malawi. In late January 2011, President Bingu Wa Mutharika assented to the bill, thus completing its enactment into law. The new Section 137A, captioned “Indecent practices between females,” provides that any female person who, whether in public or private, commits “any act of gross indecency with another female” shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a prison term of five years.

“The criminalization of private sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex, whether women or men, runs counter to Malawi’s obligations to protect the human rights of all citizens of Malawi, regardless of sexual orientation,” said Alli Jernow, Senior Legal Advisor for the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Project. “If used to prosecute women for their private consensual sexual relationships, the new law threatens the universal rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination.”

Speaking in Geneva last September, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Laws criminalizing people on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity violate the principle of non-discrimination. They also fuel violence, help to legitimize homophobia and contribute to a climate of hate.”

The Republic of Malawi has turned a deaf ear to the calls of UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many others. Indecent practices between males are already criminalized in Malawi. Last May Tionge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were convicted of this offense and were sentenced to 14 years in prison before receiving a presidential pardon. By adding “indecent practices between females” to the Penal Code, the Republic of Malawi has not only acted contrary to its own human rights obligations, it has contributed to the severe stigmatization and discrimination experienced by gay and lesbian Malawians. All laws criminalizing consensual sexual activity between adult same-sex partners should be repealed.
At a news conference today, a team of presidential spokespersons rejected the decriminalisation of homosexuality as an aid condition.
Malawi government on Wednesday took a strong stand against bilateral donors saying it cannot compromise its sovereignty to legalise homosexuality in order to get aid.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Dr George Chaponda led a team of Presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba, Information and Civic Education Minister Symon Vuwa Kaunda and Gender, Women and Children Welfare  Minister Tereza Mwale in addressing a news conference in the capital Lilongwe.

During the news conference, the officials were reacting to reports that Germany government has cut aid following Malawi’s failure to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality and its enactment of laws seen as restricting media freedom.

Ntaba: Immoral to force Malawi to be a homosexual nation just to give us aid

And the United States of America government has delayed to release $350 million grants amid concerns of new laws to curb individual freedoms in the southern African nation...

Malawi’s Parliament in November made amendments to the country’s Penal Code which now criminalises lesbian relationship as well as gays.

The Justice Minister said the amendment was made because it was gender sensitive since it was only mentioning men and government wanted to include women to ensure that homosexuality is criminalized without discrimination.

“Am sure you now heard of women also committing indecent acts,” said the minister.

The minister challenged the donors that globally there is no consensus on gay rights saying 76 countries ban same sex marriages and criminalize gay or lesbians acts while 68 mostly European countries support gay rights.

He said in the SADC region, it is only South Africa and Namibia out of 16 that do not criminalise homosexuality.

Chaponda said Malawi cannot amend its laws to allow homosexuality just to receive donor aid.
Last week Germany withheld half of the $33 million in foreign aid promised to Malawi because of the criminalisation of homosexuality and the restriction of press freedom. On the heels of Germany's decision, the United States is refusing to sign over $350 million in foreign aid to Malawi without further talks about laws restricting "individual freedoms." The Global Fund recently rejected Malawi's application for $560 million.
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