Government, NGOs fight over gays

Deputy government Spokesperson John Bande says anti-gay laws will stay intact because homosexuality is not within Malawi’s cultural norms and therefore as a responsible government, they are not going to change or encourage changing anything.

“The NGOs advocating for this are being used by foreign organisations by enticing them with money to advance their interests in the country,” said Bande, who is also the Deputy Information and Tourism Minister.

He added that this was unacceptable.

Bande was reacting to calls by a human rights body, Centre for Development of People (CEDEP), which is advocating that government repeal laws criminalising homosexuality.

The deputy spokesperson says as a God-fearing government, there is no way they could accept that people should engage in same sex relationships.

“This practice is not within our culture,” insisted Bande.

CEDEP says the laws criminalising men having sex with men or women having sex with women are frustrating government’s efforts to fully combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country as it cannot fully implement all the provisions in its national AIDS policy.

In a media statement released last week, CEDEP says the anti-gay laws enshrined in the penal code under sections 153 and 156 are inconsistent with the tenets in the policy.

It says the repressive laws are driving people to perform such sexual activities without any form of protection as they lack information because they are doing it underground.

“We contend therefore, that the criminal law offences as enshrined in the penal code under [these two] sections are fatally responsible for government’s failure to fully implement the policy’we suggest an immediate repeal,” the statement demands.

Attorney-General Jane Ansa has said what CEDEP is saying is not for government to effect because Malawi has a law that could be changed by Malawians themselves if they wanted.

“If Malawians say this is what they want, it will be so, but I can not say what government’s stand is. Malawians speak through national constitutional conferences,” she said.

Deputy Executive Director for the Civil Liberties Committee (CILIC) Peter Chisi, says homosexual practices should be allowed as long as they do not breach other people’s rights.

“I have heard of cases of sodomy, especially in prisons where some inmates have been forcing other inmates to have sex with them,” he said.

Chisi says although homosexuality is a human right issue, it is highly controversial in Malawi and this is why his organisation and the other NGOs in the country kept quiet about it.

He says since, at policy level, CILIC believes those engaging in homosexuality should not be discriminated against and persecuted, his organisation will deal with the issue as time goes by.

“Most people are not happy with this and that is why we are not doing anything. We think we will solve it with time,” he says.

Chisi says apart from sodomy occurrences in prisons, there have been other cases involving tourists and the locals, but overall the practice of homosexuality is not common in Malawi.

“In foreign countries people are born gay, but in Malawi here it is hard to tell whether those engaging in homosexual practices with tourists are gay or they just do it for money,” he said.

CEDEP says gay and lesbian communities exist in the country, but have been forced underground due to the stringent laws that ban homosexuality.

“The gay and lesbian community is not a homogenous group; it may belong to all other categories and to other communities.

Its own failure to ‘come out of the closet’ has made this category more difficult to identify and therefore more difficult to target with regard to setting up programmes, goals and actions to realise their human rights,” reads the statement.

It further says the state of affairs can never be blamed on the victims themselves, but on the general attitude of the society towards homosexuality.

Opposition parties have also rallied behind government on the issue.

The People’s Transformation Party (PETRA) says it strongly against legalising homosexuality and has urged Malawians to reject any external pressure to embrace the practice.

PETRA President Kamuzu Chibambo, who is a lawyer by profession, says the country’s laws must not be tampered with to accommodate other sexual orientations.

“Not only do the laws of Malawi outlaw such sexual relationship, but homosexuality and lesbianism is abominable and cancerous to societies or nations,” he said.

He said Malawians must never allow money to rob them of their dignity and moral fabric.

“After legalisation, adoption of children would inevitably follow; is this the kind of society we want for our nation?” queries Chibambo.

Information and Tourism Minister Patricia Kaliati recently closed down a holiday resort in the northern district of Nkhatabay on the shores of Lake Malawi for promoting homosexuality, among other things.

She described the activity as abhorring and accused the traditional leaders of the district of trading off their cultural integrity and values for money.

The two owners of the place, Andrew Pearcy and Daniel Collins Button, both 54 years old and of British origin were subsequently arrested.

The issue of homosexuality has completely divided the Anglican Church in Malawi. The divisions started over differences in opinion on the rejected pro-gay Bishop Nicholas Henderson.

February 2007
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