As the eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) government argues that LGBTIQ people are “unnatural,” a new petition is demanding that it decriminalise same-sex intimacy.
The recently launched petition is addressed to the Ministry of Justice (Attorney General) of The Kingdom of Eswatini.
It calls for the government to repeal the sodomy and unnatural sexual offences law which it says fuels the “multi-sectoral discrimination” faced by LGBTIQ people in the country.
The petition notes that according to a 2019 study, over 30% of LGBTIQ people in eSwatini reported having been denied healthcare services, 50% said they were survivors of sexual violence and 26% said they had attempted to take their own life.
While prosecutions are rare and the government claims that it does not enforce the law, those “suspected” of same-sex sexual acts can be arrested without a warrant and, in theory, face an unspecified prison sentence.
MambaOnline has learned that the petition was created by a member of the organisation Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM), who has asked to remain anonymous out of fear of victimisation.
The organisation’s head, Melusi Simelane, confirmed that he supports the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality. He said that ESGM has seen how “so many human rights services are denied as a result of the common-law offence. Violations go unpunished because there is the idea that LGBTIQ persons are not allowed to exist in the country.”
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has repeatedly called on the government to repeal the sodomy offence as required under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is ratified by eSwatini.
Simelane also pointed out that the law criminalising same-sex sexuality is currently being used by the government to justify its refusal to register his organisation, negating its claim to not be enforcing the legislation.
“The denial of registration which the government quoted in the newspapers as being informed in part by this common law offence undoes the policy of non-prosecution using [the criminalisation] law,” Simelane asserted.
ESGM applied in May 2019 to the Registrar of Companies to be formally registered as an LGBTIQ rights organisations. The government has refused to do so and the matter has now gone to the High Court.
The Times of Swaziland reports that in its submission to the court, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade, Siboniso Nkambule stated: “Every other sexual action other than what is in the order of nature, capable of producing offsprings is unnatural and, therefore, prohibited in terms of our laws.”
Nkambule added: “The actions of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities constitute unnatural action which ought to be stopped in our society for purposes of our young generations as well as the public interest.”
He further argued that if the court forced the government to register ESGM, this “will have a drastic impact on cultural, religious, social interest and legislative functions in Eswatini as it will amount to legalising LGBTIs through the back door.”
Simelane is hopeful, however, that the courts “will see the actions by the government as a clear violation of our right to freedoms of association and expression as LGBTIQ citizens of Eswatini.”
As for the petition, he believes that every government is accountable to its people, “and if they fail to see this petition as a way to show solidarity in numbers, we don’t know what will.”
Click here to sign the petition calling for an end to the criminalisation of LGBTIQ people in eSwatini.