Slow progress to legalise homosexuality, but Africa remains worst offender


The number of countries that criminalise consensual, private same-sex sexual activity between adults has decreased to 72, but Africa remains the most homophobic region.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) has launched the 12th edition of its annual State-Sponsored Homophobia report on laws persecuting and protecting people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

The release of the report, co-authored by Aengus Carroll and Lucas Ramón Mendos, was on the eve of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, marked on May 17.

According to ILGA, Africa has 33 countries that criminalise homosexuality, followed by Asia / Middle East, with 25.

“As of May 2017, 72 States continue to criminalise same-sex consensual activity, and in 45 of these States the law is applied to women as well as men,” commented Carroll.

“Although laws that criminalise same-sex sexual practice are slowly annually decreasing – with Belize and Seychelles being the most recent to repeal such laws in 2016 – persecution and deep stigmatisation persist in many States.”

Carroll also noted that the enactment of specific legislation that protects LGBT people from discrimination and violence “has significantly expanded in recent years”, adding that “the real test facing States is meaningful implementation of those laws.”

Although laws that recognise same-sex relationships and families are also on the increase, less than 25% of the world’s States recognise or protect these relationships.

There are currently 8 UN member States (or parts thereof) where the death penalty occurs as a punishment for same-sex consensual sexual acts, and a further 5 States where although the death penalty is technically possible, it is not implemented.

In 14 other countries the maximum penalty can vary from 14 years to a life sentence in jail.

This edition of State-Sponsored Homophobia also includes a category looking at sexual orientation-related NGOs: in 25 States there are active barriers to the formation, establishment or registration of such organisations, and 22 States have ‘morality’ or ‘promotion’ laws that actively target public promotion or expression of same-sex and transgender realities.

“With the ongoing rise in the use of digital devices, deployment of these laws becomes all the more sinister,” said Renato Sabbadini, Executive Director at ILGA. “The ongoing case of Chechnya offers us the most recent, horrific example of such abuses, as survivors have expressed fears that the social media accounts of men perceived to be gay or bisexual are being hacked and used to identify and contact others who have not yet been arrested.”

Only 9 countries explicitly mention sexual orientation as a protected ground from discrimination in their Constitution. On the other hand, 72 States contain legal provisions that protect against discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation, and 63 States have enacted various non-discrimination laws, both comprehensive and specific.

For the first time, the report looked at States that explicitly ban so-called ‘conversion therapy’ (attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of individuals): only 3 (Brazil, Ecuador and Malta) have taken nationwide action on the issue, but the list is expected to expand in future years.

Here are key results of the report (as of May 2017)

  • There are 124 States (122 UN member States as well as Taiwan and Kosovo) where same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults are legal.
  • 108 countries have a law on equal age of consent, 16 are unequal.
  • 72 States still criminalise same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults: in 45 of these States the law is applied to women as well. ILGA knows of recent arrests under these laws in 45 States.
  •  The death penalty for same-sex sexual acts may be applied in 8 UN member States.
    In 4 of them (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan) it is applied State-wide; in 2 (Somalia, Nigeria) it is implemented only in specific provinces; in other 2 countries (Iraq, Daesh-held territories in northern Iraq and northern Syria) it is implemented by local courts, vigilantes or non-State actors.
  • There are another 5 States (Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Mauritania) where interpretation of Shari’a, or where black letter law, permits the death penalty technically, but where it is not invoked to ILGA’s knowledge.
  • 22 States have ‘promotion’ or ‘morality’ laws targeting public expression of same-sex and trans realities.
  • 25 States pose barriers to the formation, establishment or registration of sexual orientation-related NGOs.
  • 72 UN States have laws protecting from discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • 9 States contain Constitutional provisions that specify sexual orientation in their discrimination protections.
  • 43 States enacted legislation combating hate crime; 39 countries have laws addressing incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
  • There are currently 23 States in the world that recognise same-sex marriage, while 28 countries provide for some civil partnership recognition.
  • 26 States have joint adoption laws: Austria, Finland and parts of Australia were the latest to pass such laws in the last 12 months, while 27 UN States allow for same-sex second parent adoption.

Below are maps by ILGA, highlighting laws persecuting and protecting people on the basis of their sexual orientation as of May 2017.

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