Ghana: Gays and Lesbians Under Attack

The LGBT community and its leadership in Ghana are under tremendous pressure right now, as they face a deluge of homo-hatred in the local media. On September 1, the government of Ghana issued a statement banning a lesbian and gay conference and instructing the Ministry of the Interior to locate and arrest the conference's local organizers. The Minster of Information, Kwamena Bartels, declared, "Government shall not permit the proposed conference anywhere in Ghana. Unnatural carnal knowledge is illegal under our criminal code. Homosexuality, lesbianism and bestiality (sic) are therefore offences under the laws of Ghana."[1]

Since then newspapers and radio call in shows in the West African country have been obsessed with the topic of homosexuality and the sentiment has been strongly negative and in many cases violent. A number of LGBT leaders have received death threats and many are in fear of their lives.

Both the dates and the location of the conference have been sketchy and no one in Ghana’s close-knit LGBT community know anything it, leaving many wondering whether the event isn’t a red herring, introduced by an unknown source to galvanize resentment against Ghana’s increasingly visible gay and lesbian community. The focus on the international nature of the conference, which according to the government “would have brought gays and lesbians from all over the world to Ghana,”[2] seems designed to play into nationalist sentiments and reinforce notions of the “unAfricanness” of same-sex desire and behavior.

The ban is a major attack on freedom of expression, association, and assembly. While "unnatural carnal knowledge" is still a crime in Ghana punishable by up to five years imprisonment, talking about "unnatural carnal knowledge" is not. Conferences provide important opportunities to debate and develop approaches to human rights and to HIV prevention, treatment, and care for lesbians and gay men. Provisions for freedom of expression, association and assembly in the Ghanaian constitution and in the international human rights treaties to which Ghana is party protect the rights of citizens to engage in debate and advocacy, even if the issues they address are controversial ones.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is working closely with Ghanaian LGBT leadership in responding to this crisis and to ensure their safety.

For more information contact Cary Alan Johnson, Senior Coordinator for Africa, IGLHRC, cjohnson@iglhrc.org, 212.430.6053