Kenyan court upholds gay sex ban in blow to LGBT+ rights in Africa

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 24 May 2019 16:07 GMT

LGBT activists react after a ruling by Kenya's high court to upheld a law banning gay sex, outside the Milimani high Court in Nairobi, Kenya May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

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LGBT+ campaigners had argued that the law promoted homophobia and violated the constitution which guarantees equality, dignity and privacy for all citizens

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI, May 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kenya's High Court on Friday upheld a British colonial-era law criminalising same-sex relations in a judgment which campaigners said was a major blow to the fight for the rights of sexual minorities across Africa.

Homosexuality is taboo in Kenya where gay sex is punishable by up to 14 years in jail.

LGBT+ campaigners had argued that the law promoted homophobia in the largely conservative east African Christian nation and violated the constitution which guarantees equality, dignity and privacy for all citizens.

But the court threw out the petition on the grounds that gay sex clashed with broader, traditional moral values encapsulated in Kenya's constitution.

Here is some reaction from campaigners and members of the LGBT+ community to the verdict:

NJERI GATERU, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION, ONE OF THE LEAD PETITIONERS

"Kenya has missed an opportunity to take a clear stance against discrimination.

I believe justice will eventually prevail in Kenya, as in other parts of the world that have decriminalized same-sex conduct, but in the meantime ordinary LGBT Kenyans will continue to pay the price for the state's indifference to inequality."

TEA BRAUN, DIRECTOR, HUMAN DIGNITY TRUST

"All Kenyan citizens are guaranteed human dignity, equality before the law and freedom from discrimination under the 2010 Constitution. Yet in handing down this disappointing judgment, the Court has ruled that a certain sector of society is undeserving of those rights.

It is a blow for human rights in Kenya and sends a dangerous signal to the rest of the Commonwealth, where many citizens continue to be criminalised simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

YVONNE MUTHONI, KENYA PROGRAM DIRECTOR, OPEN FOR BUSINESS

"Today is a day where all Kenyans have lost, not just the LGBT+ community.

Working with a team of Kenyan researchers to examine the negative economic impacts of LGBT+ discrimination on Kenya, we found that LGBT+ discrimination can result in inefficient public health outcomes, reduced tourism and lower productivity.

The negative verdict is therefore a missed opportunity for the good of everyone as our research has shown that LGBT+ discrimination is costing Kenya up to ... 1.7 percent of GDP.

While the negative verdict doesn't necessarily mean that Kenya won't achieve its economic development goals, it does mean that Kenya might have to take a longer route on its journey towards success."

ANDREW MAINA, PROGRAMME COORDINATOR, HIVOS

"For a LGBT+ person in Kenya, it means we will still have to live in fear in the shadows, still be discriminated and insulted, still have to look over our shoulder whenever we go out and still have to move from home to home due to evictions by homophobic landlords.

Kenya was the African nation that was going to set the precedent and give hope to other countries which have similar laws. It's a dark day not just for Kenya, but also for Africa."

NEELA GHOSHAL, SENIOR LGBT RIGHTS RESEARCHER, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

"Kenya's High Court has relegated people in same-sex relationships in Kenya to second-class citizenship, based on the absurd claim that the penal code is not discriminatory. Rights cannot be trampled upon in the name of social disapproval. The Court of Appeal should revisit this ruling urgently."

SYLVIA TAMALE, GLOBAL COMMISSION ON HIV AND THE LAW

"As a member of the HIV and Law Global Commission, I am crestfallen because the judgment flies in the face of our recommendation for states to withdraw punitive laws that criminalize consensual sex between consenting same-sex adults as an effective measure for fighting the disease.

The scientific evidence clearly revealed that HIV prevalence rates were higher in countries where homosexuality is criminalized and that marginalization and stigma heightened the risk of HIV infection by a significant margin. Hopefully, the appeal court will be more respectful of constitutional morality and the preeminence of justice and dignity for all."

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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