Liberian President backtracks on anti-gay comments

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The President of Liberia, Nobel-laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has vowed to veto any legislation that would criminalise homosexual behaviour in the country, despite having defended the law during a joint interview with Tony Blair.

The interview, during which Mr Blair appeared to evade questions concerning a legislation that would criminalise homosexual acts in Liberia, drew fierce criticism around the world, including calls for a revocation of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Sirleaf.

In a statement released yesterday, the Liberian premier asserted that there were no anti-gay laws in the country, even if religious and cultural beliefs condemned “certain sexual practices.” Which is not strictly true because “voluntary sodomy” is punishable by up to a year in prison.

The issue of homosexuality has surfaced in Liberia at least in part because US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the British Prime Minister David Cameron, had said last year that foreign aid would be restricted to countries with anti-gay policies, which prompted the drafting of two virulently anti-gay bills, including the possibility of the death penalty. Homophobia in the country runs deep enough for one group to issue a ‘death list’ against gay men and lesbians.

In the statement released yesterday, President Sirleaf said she would not condone discrimination against any group, nor impose her own beliefs on the country. Rather, she said, she would allow democracy to take its own course, and let the citizens of Liberia discuss issues in “an atmosphere of freedom.”

“I will never condone discrimination against any group,” she said, further adding that she would use her constitutional right to block what she described as “extremist legislation” that would marginalise people on account of their sexual orientation.