A new report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has revealed that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Africa are often regularly blackmailed and extorted because of their sexuality.

The report, Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa, illustrates how LGBT Africans are made doubly vulnerable by the criminalisation of homosexuality and the often-violent stigmatisation they face if their sexuality is revealed.

Based on research from 2007 to the present, the report features articles and research by leading African activists and academics on the prevalence, severity and impact of these human rights violations on LGBT people in Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.

“The tragic reality is that blackmail and extortion are part of the daily lives of many LGBT Africans who are isolated and made vulnerable by homophobic laws and social stigma,” said IGLHRC’s Executive Director, Cary Alan Johnson.

“The responsibility clearly lies with governments to address these crimes and the underlying social and legal vulnerability of LGBT people.”

Homosexuality is outlawed in at least 38 out of the 54 counties in Africa, with Mauritania, Sudan, and northern Nigeria allowing for execution as punishment.

The report’s authors depict the isolation, humiliation and manipulation to which LGBT people are subjected by blackmailers and extortionists and describe the threats of exposure, theft, assault, and rape, that can damage and even destroy the lives of victims.

They claim that vulnerability to these crimes is faced on a regular basis and families and communities are not safe havens. For example, according to research conducted in Cameroon and featured in the report, “the bulk of blackmail and extortion attempts were committed by other members of the community – 33.9% by neighbours, 11.8% by family members, 11.5% by classmates, and 14.1% by homosexual friends. Police were often complicit in this – either by ignoring or dismissing it or, in 11.5% of cases, directly perpetrating it.”

Nowhere to Turn explores the role the State plays in these crimes by ignoring blackmail and extortion carried out by police and other officials by failing to prosecute blackmailers, and by charging LGBT victims under sodomy laws when they do find the courage to report blackmail to the authorities.

IGLHRC urged States to take concrete steps to reduce the incidence of these crimes by decriminalising same-sex sexual activity, educating officials and communities about blackmail laws, and ensuring that all people are able to access judicial mechanisms without prejudice.

Download a PDF version of Nowhere to Turn.

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