I wrote this story several weeks back. It never made it to print. Unfortunately, it never will. But the good news is, the UN committee that recently voted to remove “sexual orientation” from a resolution protecting minorities from extra judicial killings, went back on their vote yesterday. Read my original story below, and a follow story from BBC below.
Kenya votes to no longer protect gays against arbitrary killings
BY LISA WEIGHTON
A Kenya-backed amendment to a UN resolution that sends the message that it’s OK to kill gays is a step backward to achieving human rights for all Kenyan’s, gay activists and human rights groups say.
Last month, Kenya quietly voted in favor of removing sexual orientation from a UN resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of minority groups.
For the last 10 years, homosexuals have been protected under the resolution, along with other frequently targeted groups including people of diverse religious, national, ethnic or linguistic backgrounds.
Benin proposed the amendment on behalf of the Africa Group at the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee. It went through 79 to 70. Seventeen countries didn’t vote and 26 were absent.
Denis Nzokia, the spokesperson for Gay Kenya, was “appalled” at the news.
“I was shocked,” he said. “It goes to show that homosexuals are no longer safe and countries have said ‘that’s OK.’”
Nzokia worries the move could perpetuate violence against sexual minority groups, especially in light of Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s recent comment (which he later denied) that all gays “should be arrested.”
Nzokia says the events of the past few weeks have created a “scary” environment in Kenya.
“I fear where I live. We’re always thinking in the back of our minds that anything can happen.”
Last week, a 26-year-old member of a Jamaican gay rights group was found stabbed to death in Kingston. Jamaica also voted in favor of the resolution change last month.
The Kenyan Human Rights Commission calls Kenya’s move a “worrying trend.”
“What they are saying is homosexuals in Kenya are not recognized as equal human beings who are supposed to be protected like any other Kenyan,” said Eric Gitari who specializes in equality and non-discrimination matters at the KHRC.
“For Kenya to say homosexuality should be stricken off the list is totally a violation of its international obligations.”
Kenya is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “Every human being has the inherent right to life,” and that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
“The government needs to lead the way in seeking tolerance, inclusivity and dialogue,” Gitari said. Instead, “they’re giving people the license to discriminate against their neighbours.”
But the government-established Kenya National Commission of Human Rights says there will be no significant impact on the lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex population in Kenya as a result of the resolution.
“I’m not sure this would have any effect. It’s not as though the gay community would have expected any slack to be given to them,” said Lawrence Mute, commissioner at KNHCR.
Mute says sexual minorities are still protected under their constitutional right to life.
“It’s not that (Kenya is) not protecting (gay) rights. They’re saying they are not supporting the resolution,” Mute said.
In an e-mail statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Africa group decided to delete “sexual orientation” from the resolution in order to “widen the scope of those who might suffer extra judicial summary killings.”
The amendment would be more “inclusive” without highlighting any specific group, the statement read.
“This was an African Group position for which Kenya is part of and we are bound by because of Kenya’s wider interest and cooperation within the Group,” the ministry said.
The KHRC says this is just another example of how the government consistently refuses to protect the rights of sexual minorities in Kenya. While the organization is asking the government reconsider its decision, Kenya’s historical position on the subject makes that seem unlikely.
In 2008, Kenya opposed signing the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The declaration condemns violence, harassment, discrimination and prejudice based on sexual orientation.
Nzokia says Kenya has lost credibility internationally as it flip-flops between granting rights for some and not others.
“We really thought that there was progress regarding gay rights, so this was a really big blow to us,” he said.
Gitari says Kenya’s stance on homosexual rights is slowly chipping away at democracy in Kenya.
“One thing people need to understand is that when one group of people is targeted by authoritarian violators of rights, it becomes a chain. Human rights are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. You cannot grant a homosexual the right to live in this country when you are denying them the right to dignity.”
The 70 countries that voted against the resolution were primarily European and North American countries including Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and Sweden. Also voting against the amendment were India, Chile, Japan and the Ukraine.
All African countries that voted were in favor of the amendment including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia and Sudan. Also making up the 79-country majority were countries famous for human rights violation such as Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
For a full list of countries that voted for and against the amendment, visit http://www.iglhrc.org.
Homosexuality is criminalized in Kenya. The Kenya Penal Code calls for punishment of up to fourteen years in prison for “indecent practices between males.”
In October 2009, two Kenyans, Daniel Chege and Charles Ngengi, married in London. The publicity sent homophobic neighbors into a rampage and Chege’s family in Gathiru village faced a backlash of harassment.
In February, the first would-be gay ‘wedding’ in Kenya was violently stopped in Mtwapa near Mombasa. Dozens of youth stormed the private villa where the ceremony was set to take place under the so-called Operation Gays Out. Police arrested five suspected homosexuals and said no charges would be laid.
Seventy-six countries around the world criminalize homosexuality and it’s a capital offence in five. Uganda is considering making it a capital offence to have gay sex, with a minimum of life in prison.
Malawi recently passed a bill to criminalize homosexuality between women in order to create greater gender equality between men and women.
After pressure from the U.S., the UN commission had a re-vote to reinstate the “sexual minority” clause in the resolution. Read BBC’s update here