Senegal: Arrests of Gay Men; LGBT Groups Express Outrage and Concern

For Immediate Release
Contact: Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC Communications Coordinator, 212-430-6016

(New York, Monday February 4, 2008)- In a letter to Senegalese Minister of Justice, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and PAN-Africa ILGA have demanded the immediate and unconditional release of up to 20 gay men believed to have been arrested on suspicion of homosexuality in Senegal in the past week.

At least 7 and perhaps as many as 20 gay men have been arrested in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, since the morning of Sunday 3 February after a popular local magazine, Icône, published photographs of a marriage ceremony between two Senegalese men. The wedding is believed to have taken place in a discrete location in Dakar more than a year-and-a-half ago. Sources report that the photographs were sold to the sensationalist magazine by the photographer for 1,500,000 ($3000) CFA francs. The arrests were reportedly undertaken upon the orders of Mr. Asane Ndoye, head of the Senegalese Police’s Division of Criminal Investigation. It is unclear where the men are being held.

“Mass arrests of people simply because they are gay terrorize the entire community,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director. “The inhuman treatment of gay men and lesbians must stop. We call upon the world community to enforce international human rights law.” The U.N. Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v. Australia (1994) that existing protection against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) incorporates sexual orientation as a protected status.

“We are afraid for our lives, especially those of us shown in the photographs,” said Jean R., a Senegalese gay activist who spoke to ILGA and IGLHRC from a hotel where he is seeking refuge. “Some of us have gone into hiding and others are fleeing the country.”

Senegal is one of the few Francophone African countries that penalize homosexuality. Under Article 3.913 of the Senegalese penal code, homosexual acts are punishable by imprisonment of between one and five years and a fine of 100,000 ($200) to 1,500,000 ($3,000) CFA francs. While there are occasional arrests and convictions of gay men under the Article, social stigma and blackmail are the most prevalent abuses faced by gay men in the country.

“Many consider Senegal to be one of the most progressive African countries on the issue of homosexuality,” said Joel Nana, IGLHRC’s Program Associate for West Africa. “The government has included a commitment to fighting HIV among men who have sex with men in its national AIDS response plan since 2005. That’s why we found these arrests to be very distressing.”

Senegal has strong political and economic ties to a number of conservative Islamic governments and institutions, and will be hosting the summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference in March. The OIC has invested heavily in the rehabilitation of Dakar’s infrastructure in preparation for the Summit.

Under the circumstances, IGLHRC and Pan-African ILGA expressed concern as to whether Senegal is well-suited to host the upcoming International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), scheduled to take place in Dakar in December 2008.

“There will be no room for an open and inclusive discussion on the human rights dimensions of HIV in the face of such harassment,” said Danilo da Silva, co-chair of Pan-African ILGA, a federation gathering over 40 lesbian and gay groups from all parts of Africa. “We expect more from a leading country like Senegal.”

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The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is a leading human rights organization solely devoted to improving the rights of people around the world who are targeted for imprisonment, abuse or death because of their sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS status. IGLHRC addresses human rights violations by partnering with and supporting activists in countries around the world, monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, engaging offending governments, and educating international human rights officials. A non-profit, non-governmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, with offices in Johannesburg and Buenos Aires. Visit http://www.iglhrc.org for more information.