Legal Strategy Meeting on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Africa

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) worked in partnership with Global Rights, InterRights, and the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya (ICJ-Kenya) to convene individuals and organizations from over 15 African countries to participate in a four-day workshop on legal strategies to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in Africa. 

The workshop, supported in part by OSI's Sexual Health and Rights Project, was the first ever legal convening to promote LGBT rights in Africa. It offered a unique opportunity for lawyers, sexual minority activists, international human rights groups, and donors to coordinate national and international responses to laws, policies, and practices that discriminate against sexual and gender minorities. 

Event Summary

A team of two participants—a lawyer and an activist—attended from each participating country in order to strengthen partnerships between these groups.  With decriminalization of homosexuality as the overarching theme, the meeting focused on developing legal strategies around two key issues:

    • Criminal defense of individuals who are detained and prosecuted on sodomy and related charges;
    • Strategic litigation, with a focus on criminal appeals that are framed as constitutional challenges to sodomy laws. 

      The meeting also focused on using and building linkages between legal advocacy, community organizing, personal empowerment, and public education to end the arrests of people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. 

      The workshop participants highlighted the importance of using strategic litigation to repeal sodomy laws and to challenge other discriminatory statutes and policies.  Strategic litigation should be situated within the context of local, national, and regional LGBT organizing and rights-based strategizing.  The participants also emphasized the importance of prioritizing the needs and rights of the clients who have been charged, and providing support in terms of security and medical and psychosocial care. 

      The workshop served as a training and planning platform for building legal strategies, and participants left with plans to address discriminatory laws and policies in their national contexts:

      • The One in Nine Campaign decided that strategic litigation was necessary to address the inaction of the South African Government to anti-LGBT violence, and activists in Burundi are also preparing to launch a constitutional challenge against the country's new anti-homosexuality law. 
      • The Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana and the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS recently filed a lawsuit against the government of Botswana, challenging its sodomy laws from multiple legal angles, including violation of the right to freedom of association.
      • Groups also engaged in planning and activity in reaction to the promises of the Ugandan government to intensify the criminal penalties for homosexuality and the increase in the number of recent arrests in Uganda on the charge of homosexuality. 

      The ongoing and planned activities in these countries made clear the need for consistent, quality technical assistance for lawyers and activists working on cases involving discrimination against sexual and gender minorities.

      Participants ended the workshop with a call to create an LGBT legal fund for Africa, which will be spearheaded by IGLHRC and ICJ-Kenya, and with a call to create a peer support network for African lawyers working on sexual orientation and gender identity cases, to be organized by InterRights.   

      Date: January 21, 2009
      Time: (All day)

      Cape Town, South Africa

      Sponsored by: