By Rebecca Chimjeka
The Malawi government has trashed remarks by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that African leaders should respect gay rights.
Malawi Minister of Information and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati said there is no way the country can legalize homosexuality since it is against traditional values and commonly taken as a taboo.
“We can not accept homosexuality, it is against our values and we can accept any call on the same,” the government spokesperson was quoted as saying by the public broadcaster MBC.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Malawi. Section 153 prohibits “unnatural offences”. Section 156 concerning “public decency” is used to punish homosexual acts.
Homosexual acts are proscribed under the Malawi Penal Code of 1930, drafted when Malawi was under British colonial rule and retained after independence. No specific laws against homosexuality were in place before British rule.
In late December 2009, a trans woman and a man, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, were arrested for holding a traditional ‘engagement’ party.
They were imprisoned in Blantyre, were denied bail and stood trial. On 18 May, they were found guilty, although there has been an international outcry from LGBT solidarity groups.
On 29 May 2010, President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned both individuals. Ki-moon laws against homosexuality violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Let me mention one form of discrimination that has been ignored or even sanctioned by many states for far too long, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This has prompted some governments to treat people as second-class citizens, or even criminals,” he said. “Confronting this discrimination is a challenge. But we must live up to the ideals of the Universal Declaration.”
The more than 30 African heads of state and government sat silently during Ban’s speech. But more than one speaker at the opening summit session expressed irritation at what many perceive as outside interference in African affairs.
Homosexuals face severe discrimination in most African societies. Gays are often ostracized. South Africa is the only African country where gay rights are officially recognized.
An international AIDS conference in Addis Ababa last month was nearly derailed when the leaders of Ethiopia’s main religious denominations scheduled a joint news conference to express outrage at a planned meeting of gay-rights activists. The clergymen called off their protest only after the gay-rights meeting was moved from a local hotel to the United Nations compound.
Many of those same religious leaders met reporters in 2008 to urge passage of a constitutional amendment against homosexuality.
Secretary General Ban also used his speech to urge respect for the International Criminal Court. Several African leaders have accused the court of an anti-African bias.
Outgoing AU chairman, Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema told the summit Africa should establish its own court to put an end to what he called “unjust and discriminatory actions” by international tribunals.