GENEVA (14 January 2014) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Tuesday expressed her alarm at a “draconian” new law in Nigeria that criminalizes same-sex unions, saying it violates a wide range of human rights
The Senate approved a revised version of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill in December, and President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Act into law earlier this month. The Act includes a provision for a 14-year prison term for anyone who enters into a same sex union, and a ten-year prison term for anyone who ‘administers, witnesses, abets or aids’ a same sex marriage or civil union ceremony. The law states that ‘a person or group of persons who … supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.’
“Even before this Act was signed into law, consensual same sex relationships were already criminalized in Nigeria – violating rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination, both of which are protected by the Nigerian Constitution, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nigeria has ratified,” the High Commissioner said.
“This draconian new law makes an already-bad situation much worse,” she said. “It purports to ban same-sex marriage ceremonies but in reality does much more. It turns anyone who takes part in, witnesses or helps organize a same sex marriage into a criminal. It punishes people for displaying any affection in public towards someone of the same sex. And in banning gay organizations it puts at risk the vital work of human rights defenders who speak up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and intersex people.”
“Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights,” Pillay said. “Rights to privacy and non-discrimination, rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention: this law undermines all of them. In addition, the law risks reinforcing existing prejudices towards members of the LGBT community, and may provoke an upsurge in violence and discrimination.”
The High Commissioner expressed hope that the Supreme Court of Nigeria would review the constitutionality of the new law at the first opportunity. “International human rights law and jurisprudence clearly indicate that States have a legal duty to protect all individuals from violations of their human rights, including on the basis of their sexual orientation. Disapproval of homosexuality by the majority on moral or religious grounds does not justify criminalizing or discriminating against LGBT persons. Indeed, the defence of human rights often requires the State to step in to protect the rights of members of minority communities from the prejudices of the majority,” Pillay said.