Zimbabwe’s health minister has told journalists that LGBT rights activists will be allowed to attend Africa’s biggest AIDS and STI conference, which will be hosted in Harare in late November.
The decision earlier this year to hold the 18th International Conference on AIDS and STI’s in Africa (ICASA) was met with criticism. Some activists said they would boycott the event because same-sex relationships are illegal in the country.
There were also concerns that delegates who may be LGBT could face discrimination and even arrest if they visit the country for the conference.
According to Shanghai Daily, Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said at a press conference on Wednesday that, “As we are hosting this (conference), we must embrace all key populations. We will ensure that everybody is nicely catered for.”
He was also quoted as saying that while gays and lesbians are not considered to be a key population [at most risk of HIV] in Zimbabwe, “ICASA has got to take an international flair and embrace all key populations of other countries.”
Parirenyatwa, however, warned gay rights activists against holding any form of demonstration or protest during the event.
Somewhat ironically, the conference theme is: “AIDS in Post 2015: Linking Leadership, Science & Human Rights.”
Zimbabwe’s LGBTI group, Galz, has backed the event being held in the country, saying that LGBT groups “need to take advantage of the space and platforms for dialogue that have been created by ICASA.”
The organisers say they are expecting between 7 000 and 10 000 of the world’s leading scientists, policy makers, activists, people living with HIV and government leaders – as well as a number of heads of state and civil society representatives.
Gay sex and public affection are illegal in Zimbabwe, with penalties of up to three years in jail. Same-sex marriage is also illegal, as entrenched in the country’s Constitution.