Rights group calls for action over Nigeria gay ‘crisis’


President Goodluck Jonathan has ratified legislation that criminalizes supporters of LGBT organizations
President Goodluck Jonathan has ratified legislation that criminalizes supporters of LGBT organizations

The United States’ largest civil rights organisation, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called on US Secretary of State John Kerry to direct a strong and proactive American response to what it describes as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in Nigeria following the signing into law of new ‘anti-LGBT’ legislation.

President Goodluck Jonathan signed the profoundly anti-LGBT bill into law last week, criminalizing same-sex marriage with jail terms of up to 14 years and threatening any person who supports or is a member of an LGBT organization to 10 years imprisonment.

“In a 2011 speech to the UN General Assembly, President Obama argued that no country should deny people their rights because of who they love. It’s never been more important for the United States to stand behind those words” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “The State Department must use every available tool to demonstrate that any nation which targets its own LGBT citizens and violates their civil rights gravely risks its standing in the international community.”

HRC has been engaged with allies in the White House and in the administration to urge a forceful response from the United States government, in keeping with their commitment to LGBT and other human rights issues overseas.

Local LGBT and HIV/AIDS activists have reported that police are illegally tapping the cell phones of people they suspect of being gay and then sending text messages as bait for others. Police are also threatening to expose the accused sexual orientation of these men and women unless they pay a bribe of N5,000 to N10,000 ($30 – $60) without any evidence.

This law severely affects LGBT Nigerians’ access to healthcare in a nation where an estimated 3.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. Many of those who have already been tortured and arrested were affiliated with local HIV/AIDS organizations.

“This law bars LGBT people from safe access to health care in a country that faces the second-largest HIV rate globally. That is simply unconscionable,” added Griffin.

Additionally, this law will exacerbate the already hostile social and legal context for LGBT citizens in Nigeria by expanding the scope of criminalized activities and pairing them with harsher punishments. This denies LGBT people such fundamental human rights as freedom of association and free speech, along with rights to non-discrimination, privacy, and health.

Same-sex sexual conduct was already illegal in Nigeria prior to the passage of this bill. In the Northern states of Nigeria, Sharia Law dictates a death sentence for those convicted of homosexuality.