European Parliament condemns violence against lesbians in Africa

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The European Parliament yesterday adopted a resolution on violence against lesbian women and gay and transgender rights more generally in Africa.

MEPs acted in response to increasing reports of arrests and violence against LGBTI people, and particularly lesbian women, on the continent.

Recently, there has been increasing reports of arrests of lesbian women in Cameroon. They remain regular victims of ‘corrective’ rape and murders in South Africa, and other countries, such as Liberia and Malawi, see legal and social conditions worsen for lesbian women.

The Parliament notes the situation is worsening in countries such as Uganda and Nigeria, but potentially improving in Malawi, where newly appointed president Joyce Banda aims to decriminalise homosexuality, and in Swaziland, where HIV/AIDS prevention efforts are ongoing despite strong legal threats.

The debate in the European Parliament was reportedly widely supportive of the rights of LGBTI people, especially lesbian women, with strong speeches by Members of the European Parliament and by European Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

Despite support from the centre-right MEPs Eija-Riitta Korhola (EPP, Finland) and Edit Bauer (EPP, Slovakia), the EPP Parliamentary group withdrew its support from the draft resolution before the debate. Voting against the resolution, conservative MEP Bernd Posselt said he was not in favour of mixing criticism of violence with non-discrimination.

Ulrike Lunacek MEP, Co-president of the European Parliament’s LGBT Intergroup, said: ”I find it utterly shocking that the EPP group withdrew their support from a resolution they had previously agreed to. Why can they not condemn the raping of lesbian women and killings of LGBTI people? Their opposition makes no sense.”
“But I remain convinced the Parliament will stay committed for the years to come, as it has been since 1993, to the human rights of LGBTI people.”

Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP, Vice-President of the LGBT Intergroup, added: “Despite the ugly opposition of center-right MEPs to this resolution, I’m proud to say that once more, the European Parliament expressed its strong commitment to peace and equality. No amount of discussions, resolutions or speeches will do justice to the lives of danger a lot of women and LGBTI people face in countries around the world. While we keep pushing for equality here in Europe, we also stand in solidarity with minorities around the world.”

Liberal Democrat MEP for London Sarah Ludford said: “The EU has a responsibility to promote human rights of gay and lesbian people beyond its borders as well as within. We cannot offer trade and development cooperation while turning a blind eye to ‘corrective rapes’, imprisonment and death for not being heterosexual or just for being female. The EU must be proactive under its new human rights strategy in supporting African LGBT organisations and insisting on respect for non-discrimination in association agreements.”

Conservative Marina Yannakoudakis MEP said: “Recent developments in Cameroon made me realise that we needed to stand up for the rights of LGBTI people in Africa. Lesbian women are particularly at threat from violence and rape when their sexual orientation is revealed and I and other members of the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee have been concerned by the worsening situation.”

Ms Yannakoudakis told the Parliament the story of a lesbian woman in Uganda whose father turned her in to the police when he discovered she was gay.

She described brutal beatings and rape at the hands of the police, giving birth to a stillborn child in her prison cell. Ms Yannakoudakis said the woman had escaped to London in 2006, but suffered permanent hearing loss from the beatings.

She said: “I have been told that this is very typical of lesbians who flee persecution from some African countries. I hope that this resolution can help affect real change in these countries, so that men and women no longer have to suffer for their sexual orientation.

“As London looks forward to celebrating World Pride this weekend, I am proud as a London MEP to have stood up for the rights of LGBTI people the world over who are under the threat of oppression.”

Erin Power, Executive Director of the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group (ULGG) said of the resolution: “UKLGIG welcomes the European Parliament’s recognition of the precarious situation of LGBTI people, especially women, in some African countries.

“We particularly endorse the acknowledgement that those groups working in-country are best placed to understand how to bring about change and the proposal to both consult and offer support to these groups.”