President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The United Nations human rights office has expressed concern about a draft bill being considered by Liberian lawmakers that would further criminalise homosexual behaviour.

The legislation, which has already been passed by the Liberian Senate but is still being considered by the House of Representatives, makes homosexual behaviour a second degree felony for which people can be fined and imprisoned for up to five years.

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the proposed legislation would impose penalties for a person who “seduces, encourages, or promotes another person of the same gender to engage into sexual activities”.

“We are also concerned about the atmosphere of intimidation and violence against gay and lesbian activists, as well as reports of attacks against them,” said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

“Such harassment illustrates the difficult, discriminatory environment in which gay rights activists are operating.”

Sodomy, voluntary and involuntary, is already a criminal offence under Liberian law. However, Shamdasani stressed that the bill under consideration would make an already bad situation for lesbian and gay people in Liberia even worse.

“Legislation criminalising 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 stigmatisation, discrimination and possible violence,” she told a news conference in Geneva last week.

Last month, the Liberian Senate unanimously passed another bill banning same-sex marriage in the country, but it is unclear if President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will sign it into law. In March, she said that she would veto any law that attempted to change the status quo – either by legalising homosexuality or further criminalising it.

An online petition has been created calling for Sirleaf to be stripped of her 2011 Nobel Peace Prize if she does not veto the anti-gay bills.

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