U.N. to launch legal challenge against Malawi anti-gay laws

LILONGWE Tue Jan 21, 2014 1:38pm EST

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon waves as he arrives at the Kamuzu International Airport in the Malawi capital Lilongwe May 29, 2010, on his mission to pursuade Malawi's president to take a stand on Malawi homosexuals who were imprisoned for 14 years. REUTERS/Eldson Chagara

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon waves as he arrives at the Kamuzu International Airport in the Malawi capital Lilongwe May 29, 2010, on his mission to pursuade Malawi's president to take a stand on Malawi homosexuals who were imprisoned for 14 years.

Credit: Reuters/Eldson Chagara

LILONGWE (Reuters) - The United Nations' AIDS taskforce and human rights groups will launch a court battle against Malawi's laws criminalizing homosexuality, in a rare challenge to rising anti-gay legislation in Africa.

The legislation has strained relations between President Joyce Banda's government and international donors, whose aid is desperately needed in the impoverished country.

UNAIDS, the Malawi Law Society and local rights groups will ask the high court on March 17 to overturn as unconstitutional laws banning same-sex relationships.

They will also challenge the convictions of three men jailed in 2011. Homosexuality carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years in the southern African country.

"Our argument is that as long as same-sex relationships are consensual and done in private no one has business to get bothered," law society spokeswoman Felicia Kilembe said.

Anti-gay sentiment and the persecution of homosexuals is rife in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan this month provoked ire from the United States and the U.N. after signing a bill criminalizing same-sex relationships.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said the Nigerian law could fuel prejudice and violence and risks obstructing an effective HIV/AIDS response.

In Malawi homosexuality became a contentious issue in 2009 when two men were arrested and charged with public indecency for getting married in a traditional ceremony.

They were later pardoned by the late President Bingu wa Mutharika after pressure from donors and the United Nations.

(Reporting by Mabvuto Banda; Editing by David Dolan and Elizabeth Piper)

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Comments (2)
awc02 wrote:
Notice how UNAIDS is all over Malawi about these policies but has little to say to the United Arab Emirates. Does anyone else think this has something to do with the fact that Malawi needs UN aid and the UAE doesn’t?

Jan 21, 2014 7:02pm EST  --  Report as abuse
PeterNkosi wrote:
I am posting this from Malawi.

Let me start off by saying I hope that the Court finds the “sodomy law” to be in breach of the Constitution, and that the cases of the three men are looked upon favourably. I mention this because I am going to be a bit critical of how this article is presented.

1. The matter is in court because the Malawian Judiciary itself has put it there. In September last year there was a notice on its website stating that hearings would start in early December, and inviting those interested to apply to be friends of the Court. So the “court battle” has been launched by the Judiciary itself, and the activists are participating at its invitation. Someone in Malawi is spinning this around to make it look like the “battle” has been started on the initiative of the activists.

2. There are no details about the convictions of the three men jailed in 2011, other than there are three cases, and each one involving the conviction of a single individual. Since it usually takes two to tango, why were the other participants in the acts not convicted also? Perhaps there was no other participant, or he was a minor, or coercion was used. We will have to wait and see

Jan 21, 2014 11:47pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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