Nigeria’s proposed ban on same-sex partnerships an assault on human rights

A bill now before the Nigerian National Assembly aims to outlaw marriages between individuals of the same sex – in a country where homosexuality is already criminalized. The bill would punish “the coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of leaving together as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sexual relationship” with up to three years’ imprisonment.

If passed, the bill would give licence to the authorities to raid public or private gatherings of any group of people they suspect to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The measure would also increase the risk of violence and other acts of discrimination against individuals who are suspected of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“It is simply unacceptable to single out one group of people to be deprived of the rights we all enjoy,” said Aster Van Kregten, Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher. “Legalising discrimination is reprehensible in itself and can only promote acts of hatred.”

In addition to the measures against those thought to be in same-sex relationships, the bill would authorise sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of N2,000 (US$14) for any person who “witnesses, abets and aids the solemnization of a same gender marriage.”

These provisions would violate the rights to freedom from discrimination, freedom of private and family life, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of association, guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution and by human rights treaties.

Citing these concerns, a statement issued by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Nigerian human rights non-governmental organisations urged Nigeria’s National Assembly not to enact the bill.

In 2006, the Federal Minister of Justice presented a similar bill which punished with a five-year prison term anyone involved in a same-sex marriage, or who aided or abetted such a marriage. The draft bill also prohibited the registration of ”Gay Clubs, Societies and organizations”. However, it was not passed before a change of government in 2007.

In fact, under Nigeria’s criminal code and penal code, consensual same sex conduct between adults is already punishable by a sentence of fourteen years’ imprisonment for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” The use of such laws to imprison individuals for consensual same-sex relations in private is a violation of human rights, and Amnesty International considers any person so imprisoned a prisoner of conscience.

Amnesty International has expressed in the past concerns about human rights abuses against individuals on the basis of their actual or imputed consensual sexual behaviour with people of the same sex.

In August 2007, for example, police in Bauchi state arrested 18 men suspected of same-sex relations, charging them with belonging to an unlawful society, committing indecent acts, and engaging in criminal conspiracy. In 2008, several men and women were also arrested and detained on charges of engaging in consensual same-sex relations.