Monday 10 January 2011

In Zambia, 'witch hunt' of LGBT meets "eerie silence"

Coat of arms of ZambiaImage via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

Zambia's leadership has been accused of using homosexuality as a wedge issue in that country's 2011 general election. And growing anti-gay activity by church leaders is leading to increased attacks on LGBT people, say local gay leaders, risking Zambia becoming "another Uganda or Senegal."

According to African Activist, vice-President George Kunda challenged opposition leaders Patriotic Front (PF) president Michael Sata and United Party for National Development (UPND) president Hakainde Hichilema, whose parties are in an electoral pact, to give Zambians their position on homosexuality and gay rights.

Sata has twice lost in bitter Presidential elections. He is an enthusiastic backer of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. In the campaign both Kunda and Sata have threatened to sue each other over alleged libels.

Kunda has called homosexuality "foreign, satanic and sadistic."

The PF has refused to state its position on homosexuality, saying that the party "would not preoccupy itself with less pressing issues because it was currently more concerned with the welfare of the people."

Religious leaders have previously accused Sata of "having meetings with [Western aid] donors where he was assuring them that he would legalise homosexuality and revert the country to a secular state provided they backed his candidacy."

Zambian President Rupiah Banda has also claimed that "the Government was aware that some sections of the donor community had embarked on a campaign aimed at making Zambians believe that homosexuality was a human rights issue."

Bishop Joshua Banda, chairman of Zambia’s National AIDS Council, has said that donor countries’ efforts to speak out against violations of gay rights were against Zambia’s “traditional values”.

Swedish envoy to Zambia, Marie Andersson de Frutos has publicly encouraged the government to come up with a lasting constitution that respects the universal human rights declaration and said that Sweden would fund LGBTI groups and groups tackling HIV/Aids amongst MSM (men who have sex with men). The Netherlands is also believed to support LGBTI groups.

As in Kenya, the drafting of a new constitution has seen pressure from religious leaders to ensure that it does not offer any protections to LGBTI people. The National Constitutional Conference (NCC) – the official body tasked with driving the reform process and rewriting the constitution – has included a clause that forbids marriage between people of the same sex in the draft constitution as a result. The draft also includes a clause declaring Zambia a 'Christian nation'. The new constitution is expected to be passed this year.

Though Rupiah Banda has come under pressure from former Botswana President Festus Mogae, leader of the Champions for an HIV-Free Generation group of African elders, on laws against homosexuality, the group's vice chairperson former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda has said that the Government should enact laws "to stop promotion of homosexuality".

Mogae has urged the government not to criminalise homosexuality as well as sex work because that would make the fight against HIV/Aids difficult.

In response, President Banda said it was difficult for him when it came to the laws, whether or not to permit homosexuality in the Zambian society.
“What is worse is that our cooperating partners, who are much more influential than us because of their money will influence, they actually glorify it, they talk to our young people and making them believe that homosexuality is a human right and that if you appear to speak against it then you are a reactionary and you don’t understand the world etcetera etcetera.”

“But hearing it from the position of the Champions in the fight against AIDS then you understand why we should not criminalise them, understand them and at the same time try and sensitize our children, young people.”
Zambian LGBTI group Friends of Rainka says that the government is unpopular and they "will use anything, and risk innocent nationals in their quest to gain the churches' and ultimately the Zambian vote. It so happens that this time around, it's the gays."

They say that there is a mounting "witch hunt" against the gay community and an "eerie silence from Zambia's civil society and the international community."
"The mood in a normally tolerant Zambia is slowly turning hostile as religious leaders pressure government to act ‘responsibly’ by continued human rights violations in the name of Christianity."
"Already, in urban areas, reports of hate speech and victimisation of members of the gay community have been recieved following the attacks from church leaders and government. Again, the church continues to push political agendas in the name of Christianity whilst the international community and gay activists stand alone in their quest to uphold and protect human rights."

"The church leadership are only out to enrich themselves and not to speak for the people as is required in Christian doctrine. They sit at the table with crooks, thieves and despots but are always quick to condemn human rights champions."

"As human rights activists we appeal to the Zambian public to see these men for what they are, a bunch of small minded, misguided, greedy and corrupt bigots who have lost the plot in their quest to further enrich themselves. We also call upon African clergy that practice inclusive ministries to come to the aid of the Zambian gay community and international community and encourage a spirit of dialogue before a tolerant Zambia turns into another Uganda or Senegal."
Formerly a colony of the British Empire, Zambia inherited the laws and legal system of its colonial master upon independence in 1964. Laws concerning homosexuality have largely remained unchanged since then, and homosexuality is covered by sodomy laws that also proscribe bestiality.

A 2010 survey revealed that only 2% of Zambians find homosexuality to be morally acceptable; nine points below the figure recorded in Uganda (11% acceptance).

According to a 2007 report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee by Global Rights and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the criminalization of consensual homosexual sex in Zambia "has a devastating impact on same-sex practicing people in Zambia". The report asserts that LGBT people are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, "discrimination in education, employment, housing, and access to services", and extortion – often with the knowledge or participation of law enforcement authorities.
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