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By Godfrey Olukya 15-1-2014

Kerry Kennedy, on behalf of the Robert F. Kennedy for Justice and
Human Rights (RFK Center), expressed deep dismay over new legislation
signed by the Nigerian president that removes key protections for
human rights organizations, criminalizes gay couples who appear in
public together, and threatens the efficacy of AIDS and HIV outreach
programs.

A statement by the organization said that while it was already illegal
to engage in consensual same-sex relationships, Nigerian couples could
now face up to 14 years in prison if convicted, and anyone who
participates in gay clubs or organizations and same-sex couples who
publicly show affection could face up to 10 years in prison. Already,
human rights activists in northern Nigeria have reported that
authorities are working off a list “suspects,” purportedly obtained
through torture, and have arrested dozens of gay men on suspicion of
belonging to organizations that advocate for LGBTI rights.

Worldwide, homophobia and anti-gay laws are correlated with increased
vulnerability to HIV infection. By signing legislation that codifies
such stigma, Nigerian lawmakers could seriously undermine domestic
relief efforts, a dire possibility for a country that already boasts
the world’s third-largest population of people living with HIV and
AIDS.

“This catastrophic law legalizes human rights abuses against an
already marginalized group, and is an affront to Nigeria’s own
constitution for which the advancement of equality and social justice
are bedrock principles,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of the RFK
Center. “This cold-hearted and callous action by the Nigerian
government not only invites a broader crackdown on the country’s LGBTI
community, but also infringes upon the rights of all Nigerians,
including the freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful
assembly.”

Nigeria has also ratified and acceded to the African Charter on Human
and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights (ICCPR), which commits its parties to respect the
civil and political rights of all individuals, including the right to
privacy, and the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and
association. Under international law, any person arrested or detained
as a result of this new law would therefore be subject to arbitrary
and unlawful detention. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has
held that any law justified by public and religious morals may not
discriminate against one group of people, explicitly stating that
associations which “peacefully promote ideas not necessarily favorably
received by the government or the majority of the population” are
protected within the scope of the ICCPR.

“The protection of fundamental human rights is a cornerstone of any
democracy,” said Santiago Canton, Director of RFK Partners for Human
Rights. “We respectfully remind the Nigerian president and the
country’s lawmakers of their sworn responsibility to promote equality
for each citizen, regardless of sexual orientation or gender
identity.”

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center)
was founded in 1968 by Robert Kennedy’s family and friends as a living
memorial to carry forward his vision of a more just and peaceful
world. RFK Partners for Human Rights engages in strategic long-term
partnerships with RFK Human Rights Award Laureates, augmenting the
effectiveness of grassroots leaders to support sustainable social
justice movements.

END

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