UN human rights experts have slammed the detention of 21 LGBTQ+ human rights defenders in Ghana who continue to be denied bail.
Ghanaian police arrested the 16 women and five men who were conducting paralegal training for the protection of the human rights of sexual minorities in the city of Ho on 20 May.
They were remanded in police custody by the Ho Circuit Court and charged with unlawful assembly. On Tuesday, the group LGBT+ Rights Ghana reported that the court had again denied them bail – for the third time.
“We are deeply concerned by the arrests of the human rights defenders. All evidence available to us points to the fact that they were detained while they were peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” said the UN experts.
The experts are mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to report and advise on human rights in various spheres such as discrimination against women and girls, freedom of opinion and expression, arbitrary detention, and freedom of peaceful assembly.
They include Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Human rights defenders play a key role in protecting vulnerable groups from violence and discrimination and empowering them to claim their human rights. Ghana should ensure that no one is criminalised for defending the fundamental rights of LGBT people,” said the experts.
They pointed out that the root of the arrests lies in the criminalisation of consensual same-sex conduct.
In Ghana, same-sex sexual activity falls under the definition of “unnatural carnal knowledge”, under section 104 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960, which imposes a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.
“Detention on discriminatory grounds, including for combating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, is arbitrary by its own nature and violates international human rights law. The Government of Ghana must release them immediately and unconditionally,” the experts asserted.
The latest detentions follow the arrest of 22 people in March at a gathering that officials claimed was a lesbian wedding. The opening of an LGBTQ+ community centre by LGBT+ Rights Ghana in late January in the capital Accra also sparked a wave of virulent homophobia from religious leaders and the media. The centre was raided and shut down by security forces.
In light of the oppression of LGBTQ+ Ghanaians, questions have been asked about Twitter’s commitment to human rights after its recent decision to open its first African office in Ghana. Bizarrely, the company said it had chosen the country because it is a “champion for democracy” and “a supporter of free speech.”