International: Criminalization and Decriminalization of Homosexual Acts (2003)


A Note on Content Accuracy:

If you have new information that can be used to update this page, please send it in an e-mail to IGLHRC's Program Associate. Web links provided here are to assist in ongoing research on standing laws. IGLHRC is not responsible for the content of externally linked websites.


Introduction:

In 1994 the UN Human Rights Committee ruled in the case of Toonen vs. Australia that the sodomy law of the Australian state of Tasmania violates Australia's obligations under Articles 2 and 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For further information about this ruling please see (in PDF format) IGLHRC's fact sheet on international jurisprudence and policy precedents regarding sexual orientation.


Many countries maintain laws that prohibit or regulate sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex. Often called sodomy laws, some statutes regulate specific sexual acts (for example anal sex) regardless of gender or sexual orientation while others prohibit a range of same-sex sexual activities. Many laws are quite broad in their scope, for example prohibiting any "unnatural" or "indecent" sexual act. Other countries maintain "morality laws" against "anti-social" or "immoral" behavior, "causing a public scandal," "hooliganism," "loitering," etc. that are used by the police to arrest and harass gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender persons. Examples of such countries include Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and several states within the United States. The United Kingdom prohibits the "promotion" of homosexuality. Complex legislation from so many different judicial contexts does not lend itself to easy synthesis in a brief information sheet. To provide focus, this page does not include details about "morality laws" but rather concentrates on laws that criminalize sexual acts performed by consenting adults in private. It also does not include information about differing ages of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals. This page neither details specific penalties provided for in the law nor does it indicate how often the laws are enforced. For additional information, please refer to the sources cited, the additional web links provided, or contact the consular representative of the country in question.


Print and Web Sources:

The information contained on this list is derived from the following sources:

  • ACLU = Status of US Sodomy Laws, American Civil Liberties Union: http://www.aclu.org/issues/gay/sodomy.html
  • AI = Amnesty International Library Click here to search the AI library for documents on sexual orientation.
  • AI-LGBT = Amnesty International LGBT Network website content. Click here to read Crimes of Hate, Conspiracy of Silence: Torture and Ill-Treatment Based on Sexual Identity (AI: 2000) B = Breaking the Silence: Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation, London: Amnesty International United Kingdom, 1997.
  • Click here to order Breaking the Silence & other LGBT publications by AI.
  • BTM = Behind the Mask website on African country conditions: http://www.mask.org.za
  • E = Eastgarden Countries (1998) website:http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/2144/countries.html
  • I = Index on Censorship, 24(1) Jan/Feb 1995.
  • IGLHRC = Recent IGLHRC work.
  • ILGA = International Gay and Lesbian Association (Brussels) World Legal Survey:http://www.ilga.org/Information/Legal_survey/ilga_world_legal_survey%20introduction.htm
  • M = Michael T. McLoughlin, "Crystal or Glass?: A Review of Dudgeon v United Kingdom on the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Decision," E Law - Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law, Vol 3, No 4 (Dec 1996).
  • Magnus = The Magnus Hirschfeld Center for Human Rights: http://come.to/humanrights
  • News = Miscellaneous news services.
  • NGLTF = The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Washington, DC: http://www.ngltf.org
  • NNG = The No-Nonsense Guide to Sexual Diversity by Vanessa Baird, New Internationalist Publications, Appendix (2001). Click here to download a text version. Click here to order the No-Nonsense Guide.
  • P = The Third ILGA Pink Book, Aart Hendriks, et al, eds., Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1993.
  • Click here to order the Pink Book.
  • S = Sodomy Laws of the World website:http://www.sodomylaws.org/world/world.htm

Other useful web sources:

While every effort has been made to provide the most current information, the above sources have not canvassed every nation, and some of the statutes listed may have changed. The absence of a country from this list does not necessarily indicate whether homosexual acts are criminalized in that country.


A-Z By Country

The following countries have enforceable laws against sex between consenting adults of the same sex. Click on a country name for more complete information. |A| Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola |B| Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei, Burma (see Myanmar), Burundi |C| Cameroon, Cape Verde, Cook Islands |D| Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti |E| Eritrea, Ethiopia |F| Fiji Islands |G| Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Guinea |I| India, Iran |J| Jamaica |K| Kenya, Kiribati, Kosovar Autonomous Republic, Kuwait |L| Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya |M| Malawi, Malaysia,Maldives,Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar (Burma) |N| Namibia,Nauru, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Niue |O| Oman |P| Pakistan, Papua New Guinea |Q| Qatar |R| Russia: Chechnya |S| Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria |T| Tajikistan, Tanzania, Togo, Tokelau, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu |U| Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan |W| Western Sahara, Western Samoa |Y| Yemen |Z| Zambia, Zimbabwe


An "M" indicates that legislation applies to sexual activity between two men; a "W" indicates that legislation applies to sexual activity between two women. However, please bear in mind that sodomy laws used to prosecute men have also been used to prosecute women and transgender people, e.g. in India. Sharia—or Islamic Law—is enforced by several countries listed here, but different countries enforce the law in different ways, such as requiring different levels of evidence.


Afghanistan Sharia M, W Source: P Afghanistan Links:http://www.virtualcity.com/youthsuicide/links5b.htm#Afghanistan Algeria Article 338, 388 M, W Source: P, BTM Behind the Mask: Algeria:http://www.mask.org.za/SECTIONS/AfricaPerCountry/ABC/algeria/algeria_index.html Angola Penal Code Reference Unknown. M, W Source: P, IGLHRC, BTM Contradictory reports. Unclear whether law applies to women. Behind the Mask: Angola:http://www.mask.org.za/SECTIONS/AfricaPerCountry/ABC/angola/angola_index.html Bahrain Sharia M, W Source: P SodomyLaws.org: Bahrain:http://www.sodomylaws.org/world/bahrain/bahrain.htm & ILGA: Bahrain:http://www.ilga.org/Information/legal_survey/middle%20east/bahrain.htm Bangladesh Art. 377 & Sharia M, W Source: P, IGLHRC ILGA: Bangladesh:http://www.ilga.org/Information/legal_survey/asia_pacific/bangladesh.htm Barbados Penal Code Reference Unknown. M, W Source: P Barbados Gays & Lesbians Against Discrimination http://bglad2000.tripod.com/ Benin Penal Code Reference Unknown M, W Source: P, ILGA— contradictory reports on existence of legislation. Behind the Mask: Benin: http://www.mask.org.za/SECTIONS/AfricaPerCountry/ABC/benin/benin_index.html Bhutan Penal Code Reference Unknown. M, W Source: P, I, ILGA— contradictory reports on whether law applies to women. ILGA: Bhutan: http://www.ilga.org/Information/legal_survey/asia_pacific/Bhutan.htm Botswana Section 164a, 167 M Source: IGLHRC, BTM Behind the Mask: Botswana: http://www.mask.org.za/SECTIONS/AfricaPerCountry/ABC/botswana/botswana_index.html Brunei Sec. 292, 294, 377 M, W Source: ILGA ILGA: Brunei: http://www.ilga.org/Information/legal_survey/asia_pacific/brunei.htm Burundi Penal Code Reference Unknown. M and/or W unknown Source: BTM, S Behind the Mask: Burundi:http://www.mask.org.za/SECTIONS/AfricaPerCountry/ABC/burundi/burundi_index.html Cameroon Sec. 347 M, W Source: ILGA Cape Verde, Republic of Sec. 390, 391, 405, 406 M, W Source: P Cook Islands Sec. 206, 207 M Source: P Democratic Republic of Congo Sec. 168, 169, 170, 172 M, W Source: P— criminalized as "crimes against family life." Djibouti Penal Code Reference Unknown M, W Source: B— unclear whether law applies to women. Eritrea No. 158/1957 Book V Title IV Section 11 M, W—Contradictory reports on the extent of the force of this law on "sexual deviations." Source: IGLHRC. Ethiopia Sec. 600, 601 M, W Source: P Fiji Islands Sec. 168-170 M Source: I, NNG— sodomy law still on the books, despite the fact that the 1998 Constitution guarantees equality before the law & non-discrimination based on “actual or supposed [...] sexual orientation” in Section 38(2) (note this language was contested, & may have been removed since 1998). Gambia Criminal Code 1965-90 Chapter XV, Art. 144 M and/or W unknown Source: BTM Behind the Mask: Gambia: http://www.mask.org.za/SECTIONS/AfricaPerCountry/ABC/gambia/gambia_index.html Ghana Penal Code Reference Unknown. M Source: P Grenada Penal Code Reference Unknown. M Source: S, NNG, S Guinea Penal Code Reference Unknown. M, W Source: S, BTM, NNG Guyana Criminal Law Offenses Act Sec. 351-353 M, W Source: P, I, ILGA— contradictory reports on whether law applies to women. India Sec. 377 M Source: P, IGLHRC— law refers to men, but has been used to prosecute women and transgender people as well. Iran Sharia & Art. 139-156 M, W Source: P, IGLHRC Jamaica Sec. 76-79 M Source: P Kenya Sec. 162-165 M Source: P, IGLHRC Kiribati Sec. 153-155 M Source: P Kosovar Autonomous Region 1929 Yugoslavian criminal code M Source: IGLHRC Gay Kosova. Kuwait Sharia, Art. 193 M, W Source: P, ILGA Laos Penal Code Reference Unknown M and/or W unknown Source: P– No legal information available— reported arrests of homosexuals in 1992. Lebanon Art. 534 M, W Source: P, IGLHRC, ILGA Liberia Penal Code Reference Unknown. M, W Source: S, BTM, NNG Libya Sharia & Sec. 407.4 M, W Source: P Malawi Sec. 153, 156 M, W Source: P Malaysia Sec. 377, 377a M, W Source: P, ILGA, IGLHRC— contradictory reports on whether law applies to women. Maldives Penal Code Reference Unknown. M Source: S, ILGA, NNG Marshall Islands Penal Code Reference Unknown. M Source: S, ILGA, NNG Mauritania Sharia M, W Source: P, BTM Mauritius Sec. 250 M, W Source: P, BTM Morocco Sec. 489 M, W Source: P Mozambique Sec. 70, 71 M, W Source: P, B—contradictory reports on whether law applies to women. Myanmar (Burma) Penal Code of 1882-88 M Source: IGLHRC Namibia Common Law M, W Source: I, BTM Nauru Penal Code Reference Unknown. M Source: ILGA, NNG Nepal Country Code-1963, Chapter 16, Part 4 M, W Source: IGLHRC Nicaragua Art. 204, as amended in 1992 M, W Source: I, IGLHRC Nigeria Sec. 214, 217, 352 M Source: P Niue Sec. 170, 171 M Source: P Oman Sec. 32 M, W Source: P Pakistan Sharia & Sec. 377 M, W Source: P Papua New Guinea Penal Code Reference Unknown M Source: P Qatar Sharia, Art. 201 M, W Source: P, ILGA Russia: Chechnya Sharia, Art. 148 M Source: IGLHRC, AI, NNG— Note that although it is still regarded as part of the Russian Federation (which has decriminalized sodomy), in June 1997 the Chechen President decreed that only Sharia courts could function in Chechen Republic-Ichkeriya. Saint Lucia Penal Code Reference Unknown M, W Source: P Saudi Arabia Sharia M, W Source: P Senegal Penal Code Reference Unknown. M, W Source: S, BTM, NNG Seychelles Penal Code Reference Unknown M, W Source: P Sierra Leone Penal Code Reference Unknown M, W Source: B— unclear whether law applies to women. Singapore Sec. 377, 377.a M, W Source: P Solomon Islands Sec. 153-155 M, W Source: P Somalia Art. 409 M, W Source: B— unclear whether law applies to women. Sri Lanka Sec. 365a M Source: P Sudan Sharia, Art. 316 M, W Source: P, BTM Swaziland Common Law M, W Source: I Syria Sec. 520 M, W Source: P Tajikistan Art. 125.1 M Source: P Tanzania Sec. 154-157 M Source: P Togo Penal Code Reference Unknown M, W Source: P Tokelau Penal Code Reference Unknown M Source: ILGA Tonga Sec. 126, 127 M Source: P Trinidad and Tobago Sexual Offenses Act of 1986 Sec. 13 & 16; Immigration Act Art. 8 (18/1) M, W Source: P Tunisia Sec. 230 M, W Source: P Turkmenistan Art. 126.1 M Source: P, ILGA Tuvalu Sec. 153-155 M Source: P Uganda Sec. 140, 141, 143 M Source: P, I United Arab Emirates Art. 354 M, W Source: P, ILGA Uzbekistan Art. 120 M Source: IGLHRC Western Sahara Sec. 489 M, W Source: BTM Western Samoa Criminal Ordinance of 1961 Sec. 58.b, d, e, g & 88.j M, W Source: P Yemen Sharia M, W Source: P Zambia Chapter 87, Sec. 115, 155, 157 M Source: P, BTM Behind the Mask: Zambia:http://www.mask.org.za/SECTIONS/AfricaPerCountry/ABC/zambia/zambia_index.html Zimbabwe Sexual Offenses Act M  Source: P, IGLHRC GayZim on the law: http://www.angelfire.com/zine/gayzim/legal/legal.html