Gay rights activists and lawyers have concluded a groundbreaking four-day workshop on legal strategies for promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Africa.
The meeting, the first-ever dialog between lawyers who have worked on litigation related to LGBT rights and African LGBT leaders, was held in Cape Town, South Africa and attended by 45 participants from 11 African countries — Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
Organisations that took part included the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), Global Rights, Interights and the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists.
Participants reviewed examples of litigation that have affected LGBT Africans: These cases included an unsuccessful challenge to Botswana’s sodomy laws in 2003 (Kanane v. Botswana), the prosecution of 11 gay men in Cameroon in 2006, the arrest of two women in Rwanda on charges related to sexual orientation in 2008, and the ongoing trial of 18 young men in Northern Nigerian on charges of cross-dressing and homosexuality.
A highpoint of the meeting was the discussion of ‘Ooyo and Mukasa v. Attorney General of Uganda’, a case settled in December 2008, in which two transgender activists successfully challenged the unconstitutional invasion of their home and their mistreatment by local police and officials.
One of the litigants, as well as the lead counsel, key donors, and local organisers from Uganda were present at the meeting. Lawyers, activist leaders and donors attending the meeting acknowledged the importance of litigation in repealing sodomy laws and challenging other discriminatory statutes and policies.
Participants discussed the need for security for lawyers defending LGBT clients and causes. Many of the lawyers at the meeting had faced attacks on their reputations, attempts at disbarment, and even physical violence.
Participants ended the meeting with a call to create a multi-faceted LGBT legal fund for Africa and a training and support network for African lawyers working on sexual rights cases.