Africa: LGBT Participation in the NGO Forum and the 42nd Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

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Dispatch from Brazzaville, Republic of Congo IGLHRC continues to work with progressive human rights partners from throughout Africa and around the world to promote sexual rights at the twice-annual sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Advocacy and education around sexual rights at the Commission and the NGO Forum that immediately precedes the sessions are central to IGLHRC’s strategy for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Africa. At a meeting of its Africa Advisors in October 2007, LGBT leaders from throughout the continent confirmed their collective commitment to the African regional human rights process as a forum for promoting LGBT rights, and supported IGLHRC’s continued role as a technical advisor to that process. IGLHRC Senior Africa Specialist Cary Alan Johnson attended the NGO Forum and the 42nd Session of the Commission, held in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, last week. Other representatives from the LGBT sector included Stefano Fabeni, Director of the LGBT program at Global Rights in Washington, D.C. and Vanessa Ludwig, the new director of the Triangle Project in Capetown. “Human rights advocacy in Africa is still carried out in a tenuous and fragile environment,” said Johnson. “Violations of LGBT rights in Africa must be understood and addressed in the broader context of lukewarm commitments and frequent, flagrant violations of international human rights treaties by many African governments.” IGLHRC has attended the last four NGO Forums and Commission sessions and has supported the participation of LGBT activists from more than 25 African countries. One of the main pillars of IGLHRC’s strategy of engagement at the African Commission is to show solidarity with the human rights struggles of women, indigenous people, ethnic and linguistic minorities, and human rights defenders. IGLHRC believes that by becoming valued members of the African human rights community, LGBT activists can counter the tendency to marginalize LGBT rights. “Convincing many of our mainstream NGO partners to support sexual minority issues remains a slow process,” Johnson said. While in Brazzaville, Johnson met with representatives from more than a dozen key human rights civil society organizations—including major players such as Amnesty International, the Federation International de Droit de l’Homme (FIDH), Women AID Collective/Nigeria (WACOL) and the Minority Rights Group. He also met with a representative from the Cameroon National Human Rights Commission, Betty Luma, with whom he discussed the continued arrests of gay men in that country. The Commission session itself started on Thursday, 15 November, after two days of delay. IGLHRC met briefly with nearly every Commissioner to ensure that even though there were no formal communications on LGBT rights pending with the Commission, LGBT rights would remain an issue for consideration. There were four new Commissioners appointed to the Commission this session. IGLHRC Program Associate Joel Nana, with Nigerian LGBT activist Joseph Akoro, met with the new Commissioner from Nigeria, Mrs. Catherine Dupe Atoki, in Abuja last June. IGLHRC has also developed strong working relationships with several other Commissioners, and the session was used to strengthen those relationships and strategize about ways of achieving progress on LGBT rights. At previous sessions, IGLHRC has supported delivering public statements on LGBT rights in Cameroon and Nigeria, submitting shadow reports on Uganda and Nigeria, and providing key questions related to human rights abuses based on sexual orientation to the Commissioners for use during discussions about state reports. As a result, the veteran Commissioners have been exposed to basic issues regarding LGBT rights in Africa. IGLHRC intends to step up its work at the Commission by meeting with several Commissioners in their home countries in the run up to the next session and working with local LGBT organizations to prepare shadow reports to complement, and when necessary challenge, reporting by states.