Nigeria: IGLHRC Monitoring Sodomy Prosecutions

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has received information about a number of recent sodomy law arrests and convictions in Nigeria, some of which have been reported publicly in the press. Based upon our communications within the international human rights community, IGLHRC strongly recommends that no action be taken at this time in responding to the situations, but rather that we allow the human rights advocates close to the situation develop a strategy in this case.

The most immediately threatening case involves a fifty-year old man who was convicted of sodomy charges and sentenced to death in the northern state of Kano. Based on an accusation made by a neighbor, the man had been arrested and brought before the court for a brief trial. After being acquitted for lack of evidence, the man, whose name has been withheld, was asked by the judge if he had ever had sex with another man. When the man answered “yes” the judge convicted him and imposed the death penalty.

Last November police arrested one man and an arrest warrant was issued for another after they were accused of engaging in a sexual relationship. The first is awaiting trial on a capital charge of sodomy in a Shari’a court but the second escaped and is believed to have fled the country. It has been reported just this week that two other men were arrested on sodomy charges in the northern town of Katsina.

As of 2004 there were 530 condemned convicts on death row in Nigeria. Under the Shari’a Penal Code (in force in 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states) the death penalty can be imposed for a range of sexual offenses. According to Amnesty International, Shari’a courts have, in some cases changed the punishment for Muslims convicted of zina from flogging to a mandatory death sentence. The most well-known cases in which death by stoning has been the sentence for zina are those in which women have been sentenced to death for adultery.

In Nigeria, persecution of men who have sex with men (and by inference, women who have sex with women) is not limited to the context of Shari’a and the states where it is implemented. Chapter 42, Section 214 of the Nigerian criminal code makes "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature" a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

In 1994, the United Nations Human Rights (the body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), in considering a challenge to the Tasmanian (Australia) sodomy law, determined that sodomy laws violate international law with regard to equality rights. In 2001, the then-United Nations Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir, addressed the imposition of the death penalty for sodomy and other crimes related to adult consensual sexual relations. She commented that it is “unacceptable that in some States homosexual relationships are still punishable by death.”

According to IGLHRC Senior Africa Specialist, Cary Alan Johnson, rumor and innuendo are often at the root of sexuality-related discrimination in Nigeria. These laws, and the effort to enforce them, create a climate of fear for lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people, often leading to persecution by family, community members and government officials, as well as impunity for violence and other human rights abuses.

Under article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Nigeria is a signatory, death sentences may only be imposed for the most serious crimes, which clearly excludes matters of sexual orientation. According to Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC Executive Director, while IGLRHC stands opposed to the death penalty in all cases as contrary to international human rights standards, the disproportionate punishment imposed on consensual sex makes these cases even more egregious from a human rights perspective.

Mr. Philip Alston, a prominent legal expert and current UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judical, summary and arbitrary executions, stumbled upon the case in Kano last week during a UN tour of Nigerian prisons. IGLHRC fears that this may mean that there are in fact other men and women in Nigeria on charges and convictions related to consensual sex between adults whose cases are not known to human rights monitors.

The 50-year-old man remains in detention in as appeals continue on his case.

IGLHRC is closely monitoring the case and conferring with partners in Nigeria to determine the best course of action. Action on this case is NOT recommended at this time. Because of the publicity that has been given to some of the cases, IGLHRC feels compelled to present its position and to encourage our colleagues to consult our website for further updates that will be posted as information becomes available. For more information, contact Cary Alan Johnson, Senior Africa Specialist,