Saturday, 11 June 2011

New report documents LGBT in DR Congo, reports possible anti-homosexuality bill revival

DRC, orthographic projection.Image via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

A new report by the Research Directorate of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRBC) has documented the situation for LGBT in the vast and wartorn African country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

As result of its legacy as a Francophone country (as opposed to former British colonies) homosexual activity is not prohibited by law in the DRC. However, some sources indicate that homosexual relationships can be criminalized under the public decency provisions in the Congolese Penal Code (Code pénal congolais)

Article 176 of the Congolese Penal Code reads as follows: [translation]:
“A person who engages in activities against public decency will be liable to a term of imprisonment of eight days to three years and/or fined twenty-five to one thousand zaires [former currency]”.
According to a written response in 2009 by the Minister of Development Cooperation (Coopération au développement) in Belgium to a question from a member of the Senate (Sénat), [translation] “in practice, prosecution for homosexuality is very rare” in the DRC. But the IRBC could not find any further information on prosecutions.

However, in October 2010, a bill that would criminalize homosexuality was presented in the Parliament of the DRC. The National Assembly (Assemblée nationale) deemed the bill admissible. According to Jean Bedel Kaniki, the President of Groupe Hirondelles Bukavu (GHB), an organization that defends the rights of LGBT people in the DRC, the bill was sent to the socio-cultural committee (comité socioculturel), which is responsible for ensuring that it does not violate the Constitution.

Kaniki told the Research Directorate that the bill could be examined again during the June 2011 parliamentary session. Under this bill, people who engage in homosexual activity could be sentenced to 3 to 5 years in prison or fined 500,000 Congolese francs [500,000 Congolese francs (cUS$500)]. Members of associations that defend the rights of homosexuals could also face prison sentences.

Kaniki predicted in March that the bill would be passed:
"Elections are around the corner; therefore the vote of the parliament will depend on the role that law could play in political campaign and calculation."
The bill is reported to have been directly inspired by the infamous Ugandan 'kill gays' bill. And as in Uganda, US funded evangelicals are believed to behind the crimininalisation move. It's MP proponent Ejiba Yamapia, is an Evangelical Christian preacher.

The GHB told the Research Directorate that, in general, society favours criminalizing [translation] “acts against nature.” Homosexuality is still taboo in the DRC. The Secretary General of the Centre for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (Centre des droits de l’homme et du droit humanitaire, CDH), an NGO founded in the southern city of Lubumbashi in 1993, told them that homosexuals in the DRC are not open about their sexual orientation. Moreover, according to the authors of an article on homosexuality in the DRC published by Africultures (a magazine on African art and culture), there are no public places for homosexuals in the capital city of Kinshasa.

For the Minister of Development Cooperation in Belgium, writing in 2009, [translation] “homosexuality is not socially accepted and... is absolutely denied” in the DRC. Similarly, the Africultures article indicates that [translation] “the vast majority of the population is extremely hostile” toward homosexuals. According to GHB, [translation] “discrimination against LGBTI individuals is widespread, and they are often rejected by their communities” and are subjected to threats, retaliation, insults and social exclusion. According to the  Behind The Mask (BTM) website openly homosexual individuals “are abused by their relatives” and “hostile acts [toward homosexuals] are not isolated”.

A BTM article cites the cases of an adolescent whose parents stopped paying his tuition after discovering that he was gay, a young man whose family was “morally threatened for months” because of his homosexuality, and a homosexual man who was threatened by his neighbours because of his sexual orientation and was forced to move. Last year GHB reported the case of a young lesbian woman; Christians in the village of Cinjoma I in South Kivu [translation] “planned to kill” the woman because of her sexual orientation. The plan was not carried out after the territorial administrator intervened, but the young woman and her partner [translation] “became undesirables in their village”.

None of these reports are cited in the United States Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009, which said that there were "no reports of social discrimination based on sexual orientation in the areas of employment, housing, education or health care".

The 2010 report said that while harassment by state security forces continued, there were no reports during the year of police harassing gays and lesbians or perpetrating or condoning violence against them, and the Research Directorate says that information on the treatment of homosexuals by government authorities was scarce among the sources they consulted. However, in December 2009, GHB reported that LGBT individuals were arrested or arbitrarily detained and denied justice, and that they complained [translation] “of not being listened to or made to feel safe” by law enforcement personnel; however, the GHB does not mention a specific case. Nevertheless, in its report on the young lesbian woman in Cinjoma I, GHB states that the territorial administrator of Kabare informed the Congolese National Police (Police nationale congolaise), the National Intelligence Agency (Agence nationale de renseignement) and the Armed Forces (Forces armées) about the plot and warned the Christians that if anything happened, the guilty parties would face legal repercussions.

The Secretary General of the CDH in Lubumbashi told the Research Directorate, that there are no support services for homosexuals in the DRC. According to Africultures, organizations that help homosexuals in the DRC instead organize meetings and outings and [translation] “are practically inactive when it comes to helping homosexuals rejected by their families or in the fight against AIDS”. The President of GHB said that his organization, which is located in Bukavu, in South Kivu, is the only support service for homosexuals in the entire DRC.

Founded in 2008, GHB is recognized under the Decree of 29 January 1999 respecting non-profit organizations and organizations that serve the public (Décret du 29 janvier 1999 portant réglementation des associations sans but lucrative et des établissements d’utilité publique) in the DRC. It is funded by the Finnish NGO Kios and The Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR).

Among other services, GHB helps make NGOs in Bukavu (a city in eastern DRC on Lake Kivu and west of Cyangugu in Rwanda) aware of the issues pertaining to LGBT individuals, offers training on such topics as human rights and sexual health, reports human rights violations and offers legal and judicial assistance to LGBT people. In 2010 GHB held a seminar for [translation] “10 peer educators, health mediators and paralegals who support the LGBTI community”. In addition, GHB participates on the working group against the bill criminalizing homosexuality, which is made up of various Congolese organizations, however they have reported difficulty in raising funds to challenge the bill. GHB has received support from organizations based in other African countries “that have more experience”.
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