Nigerian health, human rights groups to legislature: Rescind anti-gay bill

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Saying Nigeria legislators’ passage of the “Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill and other Related Matters” last week violates the country’s constitution as well as human rights, groups and individuals in the country are calling on legislators and President Goodluck Jonathan to consult with civil society organizations and the and the nation’s commission charged with protecting human rights on the ramifications of the bill, and withdraw it.

While sex between men is already criminalized under Nigeria’s inherited colonial laws, the bill passed by the country’s House of Representatives last week would, according to the groups’ statement, criminalize same sex marriage, punishing those who attempt to marry — or, potentially, live with — a member of their own gender, criminalize public displays of affection between members of the same sex, and threaten jail time to groups or individuals perceived to be offering support to gay people. It also, reportedly, would make attempting to register an organization that provides support to gay people illegal.

The bill is in direct conflict with provisions of the Nigerian constitution guaranteeing rights to peaceful assembly, privacy, freedom from discrimination, and to dignity, and to life, the group’s statement says. Signers include The Initiative for Improved Male Health, Women’s Health and Equal Rights Inititiative, and Youth Health Initiative. While the statement does not specifically mention the bill’s impacts on health care provision for Nigerian’s gay citizens, previous objections, after the bill passed Nigeria’s Senate two years ago, included the chilling effect it would have on HIV prevention and treatment outreach and services.

With 3.4 million people living with HIV in 2011, according to UNAIDS 2012 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic Nigeria is home to the second largest number of people living with HIV in the world. Second only to South Africa, it also sees the second highest numbers of deaths to AIDS: 210,000 in 2011.

A recent article in Nigeria’s Vanguard noted that in Rivers, the state with the highest numbers of HIV-infected children and adults, 145,236 adults and 15,000 children were living with HIV. The article quoted an :”awareness campaigner” who “stressed the need for abstinence and faithfulness to one uninfected partner.”

In 2009 the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria recognized the need for countries to strengthen their focus on addressing the vulnerabilities of those marginalized by sexual orientation with its Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities Strategy. The PEPFAR Blueprint for an AIDS-free generation, released in November, also stressed the need to address barriers to treatment and prevention for men who have sex with men. At the same time, both global AIDS funders have stressed the concept of “country ownership” — the definition of which continues to concern both PEPFAR and Global Fund watchers, with the implication that those already marginalized by discriminatory laws will, in fact be disowned as countries “own” the terms of their AIDS responses.

Nigeria has received more than $4.5 million in PEPFAR support in 2010, and more than $2.8 million in cumulative funding for HIV efforts alone from the Global Fund.

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