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Letter to the parliamentary committee on the Nigerian Bill on "same sex marriage"
African Solidarity Group
February 14, 2007

This message is from Juliet Victor Mukasa (Uganda) and me (South Africa), co-moderators of this list:

Yesterday afternoon, Dorothy Aken’Ova heard that a public hearing on the Nigerian Bill on "same sex marriage" had been called for tomorrow by the Committee in the Parliament in Abuja. There has been frantic and speedy moves in the last 24 hours for Nigerian activists and their allies to make submissions tomorrow on the Bill.

A letter to the parliamentary Committee from African activists has been drafted. We are appealing to you to sign it. Please reply immediately to the list address ( by return of email whether you can sign or not. Put your name, organisation’s name, and country. Please forward this email to anyone else you think will be able to sign immediately and ask them to return to you so you can send it to the list address. If they try to email this address, it won’t reach us. Only members can send to this address.

Here is the letter:

Hon. Bala Ibn Na' Allah
Committee on the Judiciary
House of Representatives
National Assembly
Three Arms Zone
P.M.B 141 Abuja

Dear Mr. Na’ Allah:

As African human rights activists, working in the areas of sexual rights as well as other human rights issues, we write to urge you to oppose a restrictive bill which is due for a hearing before your Committee on February 14. This bill would be a blow to the steady progress of democracy in Nigeria. It would criminalize advocacy or associations supporting the rights of lesbian and gay people. It would prohibit any public discussion or expression of gay and lesbian lives. In doing so, it would violate the basic rights to freedom of expression, conscience, association, and assembly, as well as internationally recognized protections against discrimination. In its intention to divide and discriminate against part of the Nigerian population, and exclude them from participation in Nigerian life, the legislation is a blow to the inclusive spirit necessary for Nigeria’s economic as well as political development. Its spirit is profoundly undemocratic and un-African.

Nigeria has pledged to defend these fundamental freedoms in its Constitution; it has also signed treaties which bind it to respect international human rights law and standards, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. As African human rights defenders we urge you to continue to respect these principles, and reject this bill.

We remind you that the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights affirms the equality of all people. Its article 2 states: "Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status." Article 3 guarantees to everyone equality before the law. And article 26 prescribes that "Every individual shall have the duty to respect and consider his fellow beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance." This bill, which will result in stigma and hatred, would strike at all these promised protections.

The law would bar the registration of gay organizations, any "publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise," and adoption of children by lesbian or gay couples or individuals. It would condemn to five years in prison any person "who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private." It mandates the same prison sentence for anyone who "goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex," "performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage," or "is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private." Anyone, including a cleric, aiding or abetting such a union would face the same prison term.

The bill would thus establish a new level of policing of private life. It would also criminalize civil society and human rights defenders. Both such directions are unacceptable in a democracy. They would set a dangerous precedent and send a signal that any Nigerian’s privacy is vulnerable—that all of Nigerian civil society could be put under attack.

This law would clearly endanger the work of all human rights defenders and members of civil society in Nigeria. The U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states, in its article 5, that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: a) to meet or assemble peacefully; b) to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups." Article 7 of the declaration affirms that "Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance." Indeed, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders has specifically called attention to the "greater risks... faced by defenders of the rights of certain groups as their work challenges social structures, traditional practices and interpretations of religious precepts that may have been used over long periods of time to condone and justify violation of the human rights of members of such groups. Of special importance will be... human rights groups and those who are active on issues of sexuality, especially sexual orientation." ("Report of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on human rights defenders," UN Doc. E/CN.4/2001/94 (2001), at 89g).

Nigeria acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in 1993. That treaty protects the rights to freedom of expression (article 19), freedom of conscience (article 18), freedom of assembly (article 21) and freedom of association (article 22). It affirms the equality of all people before the law and the right to freedom from discrimination in articles 2 and 26. In the 1994 case of Toonen v Australia, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors states’ compliance with the ICCPR, held that sexual orientation should be understood as a status protected from discrimination under the treaty.

This bill would be a devastating blow to Nigeria’s development. Nigeria has made great strides toward achieving full and meaningful democracy in the last decade — a necessary precondition toward building an economy and society that can offer everyone dignity and a decent life. Development means increasing everyone’s capacity to participate in the life of the family, community, state, and nation. Development means increasing everyone’s ability to exercise meaningful choice about their lives. This bill would exclude a whole range of people — not only lesbian and gay people, but their friends and allies, and any civil society actors who dare to speak in their defence — from Nigerian society, in the most brutal fashion imaginable. This determination to divide people cannot be squared with diversity, with development, or with democracy. We urge you to reject the politics of division, and endorse a politics of respect.

This proposed legislation violates Nigeria’s most basic obligations to the rights, and well-being, of its people. By signing international treaties and entering the international community, Nigeria’s government has undertaken the bligation to promote and protect the human rights of its population, without distinction of any kind. As fellow Africans, we urge you to act on that obligation, and to further the growth of Nigeria’s democracy. Please vote against this bill.

Yours faithfully

(list of names by organisation)

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