On 4 April, 2017, Northern Irish Human Rights Commissioner, Les Allamby, addressed the first meeting “Being Gay in Africa – a Human Rights Perspective” after introductory remarks by chairperson, Senator Colette Kelleher, and Hon. Maureen O’Sullivan TD, Head of the Irish AWEPA Section. Both Commissioner Colette and Hon. O’Sullivan drew attention to AWEPA’s history as a human rights organisation, formed to fight apartheid, and now focussed on the rights of LGBTI people in Africa.
Commissioner Allamby gave an overview of the situation in Africa based on ILGA’s “State-Sponsored Homophobia” report: http://ilga.org/what-we-do/state-sponsored-homophobia-report/
Commissioner Allamby went on to describe a “prevailing negative climate” in Africa of wars, repression and crackdowns on civil society in general, which negatively impacted LGBTI rights. This includes the absence of hate-crime legislation in any African countries, few anti-work place discrimination laws and criminal sanctions for same sex activity with punishment up to execution, in some countries.
Nevertheless, this negative climate is being opposed by independent and courageous initiatives of civil society and judiciary, including in Kenya, Botswana, Zambia and Tunisia. Freedom of association rights to protest, for example, are being contested and won. Other positive initiatives include:
- The human-rights toolkits of NANHRI, a network of African human rights institutions (nanhri.org)
- African countries’ reports to UN treaties, including ECOSOC and Universal Periodic Reviews
- The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (achpr.org/sessions/55th/resolutions/275)
Irish Senator David Norris told Commissioner Allamby that he had nothing against the English (his father was one!) but noted that they had spread homophobia throughout the empire. He thanked Commissioner Allamby for his presentation while Colette, in a great moment, thanked David for his life’s work for LGBTI rights.
Commissioner Allamby responded that LGBTI rights discussions with political leaders in Africa were occurring, often in quiet corners, but there was a need to avoid ‘crass interventions’ which could backfire.
Concluding, Senator Kelleher thanked Commissioner Allamby, all present and the Quaker pastor, Justimore Musombi, whose video had opened the meeting: www.youtube.com/watch?v=gomqYzfG6Fo
Among the policy outcomes, it was said that the Irish AWEPA Section would promote LGBTI rights among AWEPA’s network and bring a motion to the AWEPA Governing Council.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission plans a side-event on LGBTI rights at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in 2018, which the Irish AWEPA Section hopes to support.
Earlier this Spring, on 8 February 2017, the Irish AWEPA Section held another major meeting, “Access to Medicines: A Universal Goal.” The keynote speakers were Ellen ‘t Hoen, a leading global advocate on Access to Medicines, and Professor Hans Hogerzeil of the Lancet Commission on Essential Medicines.
Both the Lancet Commission and the UN High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines had published major reports on this issue in the last six months, and the Irish AWEPA Section is happy to provide any follow-up information on this area to fellow AWEPA Sections.