Africa Notes: Gay Rights and the Alien Tort Statute

Do African politicians have a reason to support gay rights?
A recent conversation with some colleagues and the discovery of a post about “Gay Relief” on Ramblings of a Procastinator in Accra got me thinking again about the politics of homosexuality in Africa. In the blog post, Abena Serwaa writes:

Contrary to what most people believe, African leaders love gay people. In recent times, the African politician has come to realise that no single issue can galvanize and unite the citizenry across the usual divides than calls for gay rights.

As she mentions, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call for African leaders to respect gay rights has not had its intended effects. Ghana’s President had this to say:

Ghanaian society frowns on homosexuality, if the people’s interest is that we do not legalize homosexuality, I don’t see how any responsible leader can decide to go against the wishes of his people.

And recent Nobel Prize Winner Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also vowed to veto any bill legalizing homosexuality. Her Press Secretary said this:

Liberians should hold this government by her word. This President will not sign into law anything called same sex marriage. This government opposes gay rights. In fact, government will not compromise its religious belief for any (foreign) aid. We have listened to the vast majority of our people who have spoken on this issue and kicked against it, so this government has the will of the people and believes in the dreams and aspirations of the people and I can assure you that President Sirleaf will not sign that bill.

Of course, Africa is not the only part of the world that struggles to accept gay rights as Brian Whitaker notes, there is an “ongoing battle for gay rights in the Arab world.” And how can we expect this to happen any easier there than it does here in the US? Jimmy Carter, one of our most famous human rights campaigners, has just now come around to supporting gay civil marriages. And I think everyone knows how Santorum has felt about gay rights for some time.

The question becomes: what will it take to incentivize politicians in Africa (and elsewhere) to promote gay rights? No, I don’t yet have the answer.

Can Americans be sued for pursuing anti-gay agendas in Africa?
Indeed, just recently a Ugandan gay rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda, has filed suit against American evangelist Scott Lively using the Alien Tort Statute (ATS; a statute I have written about here). As reported by the New York Times:

The lawsuit maintains that beginning in 2002, Mr. Lively conspired with religious and political leaders in Uganda to whip up anti-gay hysteria with warnings that gay people would sodomize African children and corrupt their culture.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a different ATS case which may impact whether other cases such as this get heard. But this could be an interesting way to hold our own extremists accountable.

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