BREAKING: Rwandan Parliament to Vote This Week on Criminalization of Homosexuality

Jodi Jacobson

Yes, I mean Rwanda, and yes, indeed yet another country in sub-Saharan Africa--one which has made such vast progress from the genocide of a decade ago--appears ready to vote to criminalize the existence of a whole class of people.

Updated 8:22 pm, December 15th, 2009 to reflect the change  in an update from IGLHRC from "vote on the bill tomorrow," to "debate the bill tomorrow and vote on it this week."

Rwanda.  Yes, Rwanda.

When I first saw the email heading, I thought it might be wrong.  The human rights community has for some weeks now been focusing on a bill in Uganda–on which a vote is expected any day–to criminalize homosexuality.  The Uganda bill, on which the White House only just released a statement of opposition, was introduced on October 14, 2009.  The so-called "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" would:

  • Imprison for life anyone convicted of "the offense of homosexuality";
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  • Punish
    "aggravated homosexuality" – including repeat offenders, or anyone who
    is HIV positive and has gay sex – with the death penalty;
  • Forbid the "promotion of homosexuality," and jail rights defenders who work on LGBT rights;
  • Imprison
    anyone for up to three years if they fail to report within 24 hours
    anyone they know who is lesbian, gay,or transgender, or who supports the human rights of LGBT persons.

But the email from our colleagues at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said Rwanda, and I clicked on the link.  And I found that yes, they meant Rwanda, and that yes, indeed yet another country in sub-Saharan Africa–one which has made such vast progress from the genocide of a decade ago–was going to vote on a bill to criminalize the existence of a whole class of people.  Rwanda’s Chamber of Deputies will debate the draft code tomorrow (or today as you read this), December 16, 2009, and is expected to vote on the bill later this week.

IGLHRC wrote that:

The lower house of the Rwandan Parliament will vote on a
draft revision of the penal code that will, for the first time in
Rwanda, make homosexuality a crime.

The proposed Article
217 of the draft Penal Code Act will criminalize "[a]ny person who
practices, encourages or sensitizes people of the same sex, to sexual
relation or any sexual practice."

If the Chamber of Deputies
approves, the draft code will likely go before the Rwandan Senate in
early 2010.

Article 217 violates Rwandans’ basic human rights and
is contradictory to the Rwandan Constitution as well as various
regional and international conventions, notes IGLHRC. 

A coalition of organizations, including IGLHRC, the Coalition of
African Lesbians (CAL), and Rwanda’s Horizon Community Association
(HOCA) are "urging the international community
to act against this proposed law and support the equality, dignity, and
privacy of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in
Rwanda."

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, who professes a belief that homosexuality is "against God’s will," only just last week came out against the proposed bill in Uganda.  Yet Saddleback Church is deeply involved in Rwanda, and I can’t as yet find any statement regarding his opposition to the bill in Rwanda.

The fact that such bills appear to be spreading throughout sub-Saharan Africa is not much of a surprise.  Discrimination and bias against gay, lesbian, and transgender persons are virulent throughout the region and even many well-educated professionals are highly prejudiced against gays.  And many of the most vocal ultra-fundamentalist conservatives have been receiving huge amounts of US government assistance under PEPFAR and other programs for several years, enabling them to grow in influence and reach.  

Check with IGLHRC or here for actions.

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