UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
In the wake of the country’s oppressive new anti-gay law, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has travelled to Nigeria for an official visit this week.
Surprisingly, the visit was at the invitation of the Nigerian government. It is the first such visit to Nigeria by any UN High Commissioner for Human Rights since the office was created 20 years ago.
Pillay plans to meet President Goodluck Jonathan as well as various ministers and other senior officials in the Government, Parliament and judiciary. The High Commissioner will also hold meetings with the National Human Rights Commission, civil society organisations, members of the international community and UN agencies.
According to her office, the aim of the visit is “to engage at the highest level with the Government and civil society on the promotion and protection of human rights, and to reaffirm the support of the UN Human Rights Office for their efforts to improve the human rights of all Nigerians. It is also intended to broaden the profile and understanding of human rights in general throughout the country.”
The South African born Pillay has been a harsh critics’ of the so-called Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan in January.
“Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights,” Pillay said after it came into effect.
Not only does the law jail anyone who enters into, witnesses or aids a same-sex marriage for between 10 and 14 years, it also criminalises any kind of same-sex relationship or public affection. It further jails anyone who supports or operates gay clubs, societies and organisations, processions or meetings for 10 years.
“Rights to privacy and non-discrimination, rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention: this law undermines all of them,” said Pillay. “In addition, the law risks reinforcing existing prejudices towards members of the LGBT community, and may provoke an upsurge in violence and discrimination.”
There has also been a recent crackdown against gay people in Nigeria’s northern state of Bauchi, which in 2001 adopted Islamic Sharia law that allows for the death penalty by stoning for homosexuality.
There are reports that dozens of people have been arrested on charges of homosexuality in Bauchi in the last few months and at least five men have so far been whipped in court after being found guilty.
Pillay will hold a press conference in Abuja on Friday at the conclusion of her visit.