Rwanda to vote on criminalising homosexuality

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Rwanda’s lower house will reportedly vote today on a revision to the penal code which would criminalise homosexuality.

According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the proposed Article 217 of the draft Penal Code Act will criminalise “[a]ny person who practices, encourages or sensitises people of the same sex, to sexual relation or any sexual practice.”

It would impose prison sentences of between five and ten years for those convicted of homosexual acts.

The “encouraging and sensitising” aspects would mean a ban on counselling and could impact on health services for gays and lesbians.

Fines will range from 200,000 to one million Rwandan francs (£216 to £1,090). According to Box Turtle Bulletin, the average yearly Rwandan wage is just over 200,000 Rwandan Francs.

The African county’s Chamber of Deputies will vote on the draft code today.

If approved, it is likely to go before the Rwandan Senate in early 2010.

The move has been condemned by LGBT group Horizon Community Association of Rwanda (HOCA) and the Coalition of African Lesbians.

HOCA president Naomi Ruzindana said: “Our country and our people refuse to recognise the fact that we exist.

“As far as they are concerned, there are no lesbians or gays in Rwanda. Well, we are here, we exist. We are ordinary people like everyone and all we want is for our people and our government to recognise our existence and the fact that it is our basic human right to live our lives the way that we want and choose.”

Bloggers have already pointed fingers at anti-gay American pastor Rick Warren, who last week condemned a similar bill in Uganda.

Warren has been involved in work in both countries though the Saddleback Church but despite his anti-gay beliefs, finally released a statement calling the law “terrible”.

Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill would impose the death penalty or life imprisonment on gays. The country’s ministry for justice and ethics said last week that these provisions would be removed but the bill’s sponsor David Bahati MP said Uganda would not bow down to international pressure.

The law would also jail those who ‘promote’ homosexuality through counselling or advocacy, along with those who fail to report it to police.