What is Kofi Annan Doing About LGBTI Human Rights In Africa?

by Melanie Nathan, December 14, 2011

Back in August  2003, then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan came out in favour of  marriage equality.  LGBTI Africans knew they had a friend in Kofi Annan, who attended part of a LGBTI activist conference held at the United Nations which demanded that international treaties such as the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights include rights for homosexual couples. But where it Annan now during African homosexuality’s desperate time of need?’

At  that time Annon stated “ that the United Nations cannot condone any persecution of, or discrimination against, people on any grounds, and recalls article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that ‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind.”

And he went further to comment on the issue of same sex marriage, his personal view, is “that individuals should be allowed to make their own choices and that we should be careful not to draw conclusions, or adopt prejudicial attitudes, towards people for their choices and preferences”.

In recent years we have seen a downward spiral in the treatment of LGBTI people in Africa with a grave emphasis on criminality and laws that purport to place country sovereignty and “cultural beliefs,”  ahead of international Human rights standards as prescribed by the United Nations.

The countries that have specifically made the news include Uganda, where an Anti-homosexuality bill is pending a vote in parliament, and if enacted shall allow the government to put homosexuals to death for so called “aggravated homosexuality;”  it provides for harsh prison sentences, also for family, friends and co-workers who fail to report homosexual behavior.  Other countries already implementing arrests  that have been highlighted in the press recently include Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon.

As it happens Mr. Annan is a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the UN from 1 January 1997 to 31 December 2006. Annan and the United Nations were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for his founding of the Global AIDS and Health Fund to support developing countries in their struggle to care for their people. The mission statement of Mr. Annan’s Foundation, which is based in Geneva, includes peace and security and he is often quoted emphasizing the human rights of all people.

Just today we reported on the ministerial misinformation out of Ghana where homosexuals are being scapegoated as the cause of AIDS with calls to eradicate homosexual sex. (See my earlier post)

Since leaving the United Nations, Kofi Annan has continued to press for better policies to meet the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, particularly in Africa. He has also continued to use his experience to mediate and resolve conflict. In Kenya in early 2008, Mr. Annan led the African Union’s Panel of Eminent African Personalities to help find a peaceful resolution to the post-election violence.

In addition to his work with the Kofi Annan Foundation, Mr. Annan serves as the Chairman of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and as an active member of the Elders.  He is also a Board member, Patron or Honorary member of a number of organizations. Mr. Annan currently serves as the Chancellor of the University of Ghana, a Global Fellow at Columbia University in the United States, and Li Ka Shing Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

He  is a member of the Club of Madrid and currently serves on the board of directors of the United Nations Foundation, a public charity created in 1998 with entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner’s historic $1 billion USD gift to support UN causes. The UN Foundation builds and implements public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the UN.

But where is Mr. Annan now during the institutionalized increased persecution of gays by so many African states in a heightened anti-homosexual fervor?

Annon has his foot deeply embedded in Africa and for example made striking reference to human rights when he called for a progressive Kenya in a speech delivered early this month at a critical meeting in Kenya, ‘The Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation: Building a Progressive Kenya,’ where he noted,

Every Kenyan has a role to play in building a progressive Kenya.  Each of you must now commit to playing your role in securing the future that the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation process envisaged.

Ending impunity, and achieving sustainable peace, stability and prosperity in Kenya, will only be secured through the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The parties that committed to that objective have symbolically passed the baton on to the people under the Constitution, and through the people, to those elected and appointed individuals in Government.”

He referred to the so called New Constitution in Kenya, notably, “By this, I mean women’s groups, the disabled and the youth, whom the Bill of Rights addresses specifically.”

If only he would have mentioned all marginalized including sexuality minorities, but alas they are not mentioned specifically in the Bill of Rights in Kenya.  According to Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School,  Dean Makau Mutua, the use of the word “sex” in the Kenyan constitution includes sexual orientation, and hence protects homosexuals – but regardless Annan comments specifically referred to women, that being his interpretation.

Annon did not mention LGBTI people at all in his “progressive Kenya” speech.  It is interesting to note that Mutua also believes Kenyans have a right to same-sex marriage, noting the wording in the constitution that says “a person has the right to marry another person of the opposite sex” – does not specifically exclude or specifically include same sex couples, it merely confers a specific right on straight couples.

The mention of LGBT rights, even the mere right to the orientation as a human right, is a call yet to be made by anyone in any elected or significant leadership role in Africa itself.

Where is the meeting for African LGBTI Human rights between leaders in South Africa?

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, leads a country with a post-apartheid all inclusive constitution; and imagine together with Mr. Annan the two leaders could be be breaking down the barriers of the other African countries with calls to leaders to heed the real world on this issue.

Surely they know better than to just sit quietly as African LGBTI people seek refuge around the world from the unimaginable crisis that is unfolding before their eyes.

However it would seem that for everyone else it is just business as usual in Africa and notwithstanding the remarks of Secretary Clinton and the foreign policy memo by President Obama last week, African leadership who ought to know better, have yet to reveal any strategy, initiatives or plans to advance the education and promote understanding of Africans on issues of sexual orientation in the hope that LGBTI people will eventually find peace from persecution in their own countries.

by Melanie Nathan
[email protected]

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