UN Condemns Liberia's Increased Penalties for Homosexual Acts

The United Nations Human Rights Office has spoken out against Liberia's new anti-homosexuality bill currently being considered by the country's lawmakers as dangerous for both homosexuals and heterosexuals.

The new legislation makes homosexual acts, including sodomy and lesbian acts, a second degree felony, the punishment for which includes a fine and up to five years in jail. Such acts, including "voluntary sodomy," are currently classified as misdemeanors and carry a one-year jail sentence.

Additionally, the amendments also impose penalties on anyone who "seduces, encourages, or promotes another person of the same gender to engage into sexual activities."

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in an Aug. 3 statement to a Geneva news conference:

"Legislation criminalizing homosexuality can have a seriously negative impact, not only on gay and lesbian people, but also on the most vulnerable populations, such as people living with HIV, sex workers, refugees and internally displaced populations, who might be in need of special attention but will not come forward due to the high risk of stigmatization, discrimination and possible violence."

Shamdasani argues that the OHCHR believes these penalties will result in an "atmosphere of intimidation and violence against gay and lesbian activists, as well as reports of attacks against them."

Despite calls from international agencies to decriminalize homosexuality, many in Liberia continue to stand by their conservative beliefs regarding homosexual behavior.

In March 2012, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf defended her country's criminalization of homosexuality, telling Britain's Tony Blair in an interview with the Guardian: "We like ourselves just the way we are [...] we've got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve."

Additionally, the ex-wife of former Liberian president Charles Taylor and Liberian senator, Jewel Howard Taylor, drafted a bill that would make same-sex marriage a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

"[Homosexuality] is a criminal offense. It is un-African. It is a problem in our society. We consider deviant sexual behavior criminal behavior," Taylor told the Guardian in March.

"We are just trying to strengthen our local laws. This is not an attempt to bash homosexuals," she added.

While the anti-homosexuality legislation has yet to pass Liberia's House of Representatives, the U.N.'s Human Rights Office has been encouraging the country to accept the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to protect locals who feel discriminated against, including homosexuals.