(Photo: Reuters/Eldson Chagara)
The United Nations AIDS taskforce has announced its plans to pursue legal action against the African country of Malawi over its laws criminalizing homosexuality. The lawsuit, which will be carried out by the AIDS taskforce and various human rights groups, is considered rare.
In March, UNAIDS, the Malawi Law Society and local human rights groups will ask a high court to overturn the southern African country's law on homosexuality by ruling it unconstitutional. "Our argument is that as long as same-sex relationships are consensual and done in private no one has business to get bothered," Felicia Kilembe, a spokeswoman for the Malawai Law Society, told Reuters.
Malawi's laws regarding homosexuality have made international headlines in the past. In 2009, a transgender woman and a man were arrested for holding an engagement party. The couple had their alleged offenses pardoned later in 2010. Punishment for homosexual acts in the African country includes a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.
The country's laws regarding homosexuality have created friction between Malawi's President Joyce Banda and international aid groups, as the impoverished African county desperately needs help but aid groups do not want to be entangled in possible human rights violations.
The recent, rare legal action taken by the United Nations reflects international ire over African countries' laws regarding homosexuality. Earlier in January, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Prohibition Act of 2014, which illegalizes gay marriage and gay relationships and inflicts a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment for offenders.
Western governments had urged Nigeria not to pass its recent law, threatening tighter sanctions if the country goes through with the legislation. Although aid-dependent countries like Uganda or Malawi respond more readily to western threats regarding homosexuality laws, Nigeria's rich economy, fueled by oil output, allowed it to pass its anti-gay law without fear of reprimand from western powers.
Rumors swirled that the U.S. would withdraw financial aid for Nigeria's fight against AIDS/HIV due to the legislation, but United States Ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle later clarified that the U.S. government will continue to provide aid to the African country, although it is possible that the new law will interfere with what type of aid can actually be provided.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week that he fears Nigeria's new law could result in an increase in prejudice and violence. "The Secretary-General fears that the law may fuel prejudice and violence, and notes with alarm reports that police in northern Nigeria have arrested individuals believed by the authorities to be homosexuals, and may even have tortured them," Ban's press office said in a statement, adding that the law "also risks obstructing effective responses to HIV/AIDS."