International rights stipulations provide the basis for fundamental human rights. As Ban Ki-Moon has said, “We are all different from one another, but we all have the same human rights. I am proud to stand for the equality of all people – including those whose are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”
Numerous resolutions, from both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, make human rights inclusive of LGBT peoples, and LGBT rights distinct and important too. These are not some distant considerations, but immediate, impacting people’s lives, and violated on a consistent basis – hour-by-hour. One recent national event, from Chad, came from a distressing ratio of votes – 111 to 1 – and reiterated this perennial truism
Last month, Chad’s National Assembly voted for a new penal code which criminalises homosexuality with 111 MPs voting for it, 1 against and 4 abstaining. This made Chad the 77th country internationally, and was the 37th country in Africa to criminalise homosexuality. Under the new law, people engaging in homosexual acts can be heavily fined (£60-£600) or serve a 20-year prison sentence.
In fact, according to a legal report by the US Library of Congress all African states, with the exception of South Africa, recognises and permits same-sex marriage. More specifically, in Nigeria, Sudan and Mauritania, homosexuality is punishable by death. This action of Chad’s National Assembly comes after Gambia passed a bill imposing life imprisonment for homosexual acts.
The fact that the vast majority – only 1 exception and 4 abstentions – of Chad’s National Assembly supported the new penal code is worrying. This bill was also supported by the country’s former Prime Minister, Delwa Kassiré Coumakoye, who mentioned that “homosexuality is condemned by all religions. We do not have to forgive something that God himself rejects because Westerners have said this or that”.
There are two issues we need to discuss here: First, the fact that religion plays a role in determining what is legal and what is not. Second, the fact that the former Prime Minister considers that it is a strong point of the new penal code that it does not conform to “Western” styles and principles.
In an era that nations fight for secularism, supporting the complete separation of church and state, some African nations, including Chad, make decisions solely on religious grounds. What is more, Chad’s cabinet mentioned that the new penal code intends to “protect the family and to comply with Chadian society”. It is indeed a worrying fact how nations, like Chad, commit the argumentum ad antiquitatem (appeal to tradition) fallacy and base a whole penal code on tradition, family values and religion.
There is no reason or logic involved in supporting the new penal code apart from subjective statements of this nature. And it is scary to think that because of subjective
statements people are going to end up in prison or get heavily fined. The former PM even called the bill a “fair balance”. This leaves us wondering, however, what may ever be “fair” about the bill when it criminalises basic human rights.
Furthermore, there is every reason to argue that anti-Westernisation is not considered a valid reason for supporting the country’s new penal code. In fact, it shows quite the
opposite – its weaknesses. First of all, the issue is not even about what Western countries do. It’s what humans do. As the great journalist and religious critic Christopher Hitchens has said: “I say that homosexuality is not just a form of sex, it’s a form of love — and it commands our respect for that reason”.
Granting homosexuals the right to engage in relationships, sexual acts or marry is itself the same right we are talking about when talking about heterosexuals. No difference is or should be made. In fact, criminalising homosexuality is itself an act that does not serve to protect people of any society or tradition as it on its very basis does not take into consideration that a respected part of the population is attracted to people of the same sex, or even to people of both sexes. Any appeal to religion or tradition fails to provide us with a logical basis on which to support the claims that supporters of Chad’s new penal code which punishes homosexuality make.
Indeed, this “form of love” can be outlawed, and made extraordinarily risky and even lethal in its practice because of cultural and legal factors. Take, for example, the case of Tanzania suspending the outreach programmes for HIV. Why would there be a suspension for outreach programmes for HIV? The reason: homosexuality is outlawed within Tanzania and, therefore, within the logic of the system, seen as not worth considering for appropriate, and needed, outreach for HIV.
And it is not like there aren’t campaigns devoted to the implementation of the international rights via international movements – the UN Free & Equal is one such campaign, and “is an unprecedented United Nations global public education campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality” (OHCHR, 2016b). These are old prejudices, and they keep cropping up. Again, why? It is easier to hate than to love, at least in the short-term.
Which leads back to the international Moral-Educator-in-Chief, Ban Ki-Moon, who said, “It is an outrage that in our modern world so many countries continue to criminalise people simply for loving another human being of the same sex…Laws rooted in 19th century prejudices are fuelling 21st century hate.”
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.