Will new constitution in Zimbabwe decriminalize homosexual conduct?

by on August 21, 2009  •  In Criminal law

Led by the fiercely anti-gay Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has long been a nightmare for lgbt people.  Male homosexual sexual conduct is illegal there, a status reaffirmed by the nation's highest court in a prosecution of one of Mugabe's predecessors, Canaan Banana [S. v. Banana, 2000(3)SA 885 (ZS)].

This summer, however, meetings have been ongoing to draft a new constitution. Anti-democracy thugs disrupted the conference last month, but it then resumed. Given that Mugabe is still in power, it may be unrealistic to expect that the drafting project will lead to anything more than words on paper. If the process does continue to completion, though, there will be a referendum on the new constitution next year.

AIDS and lgbt activists have been seeking to invoke the kinds of protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation found in the South African constitution to achieve greater legal protection in Zimbabwe.

According to this dispatch from the Guardian, they plan to use the argument that criminal laws impede efforts to fight AIDS, an urgent issue there and throughout Africa, and the subject of a keynote speech at last year's International AIDS Conference:

Gay men and lesbians in Zimbabwe are hoping for an end to years of "hysterical homophobia" by having their rights enshrined in the new constitution.

Sexual acts between men are outlawed in the socially conservative country (there is no legal reference to women) and the president, Robert Mugabe, has encouraged a climate of hostility by condemning homosexuality, describing it as a western import.

His opponents in the Movement for Democratic Change are more supportive of gay rights, raising hopes that Zimbabwe's constitution could follow that of South Africa, the first in the world to specifically outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference.

Keith Goddard said the group Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) – of which he is director – had tried twice to get sexual orientation included in the constitution.

"Now, with the new constitutional review, we are pushing again for sexual orientation," he said. "The National Aids Council has moved forward enormously from its original policy, and in its strategic plan for 2006-10 it specifically calls for the decriminalisation of homosexuality because punitive measures have simply driven the community underground and make this hidden population difficult to reach.

"So I think we can use it on the grounds of health and HIV/Aids interventions to try and argue the issue. Arguing it on religious or moral grounds is not going to get it anywhere. We live in hope. I think we've probably got a 50:50 chance."


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