By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The United Nations, yesterday, said it would not relent on its effort to persuade Nigeria to repeal the law that criminalised same sex marriage in the country, even as it adduced reasons why it would not in the meantime, impose any sanction on the nation.
Addressing a press conference at the end of her four days working visit to Nigeria, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, while advocating for adequate protection of the rights of lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and transgender, LGBT, yesterday, described the same sex marriage law as “draconian and illegal”, saying “the law already appears to be having other dangerous side effects.”
Pillay, who was in the country to appraise human right situations, said the UN would forthwith hold the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, accountable to his assurances that the same sex marriage law was not in any way intended to criminalise individual sexual orientations.
According to the South African born UN Chief, “In the twenty years since the office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights was created, this is the first time any High Commissioner has visited Nigeria. I am grateful to the government for inviting me.”
”This is a very important country, with easily the largest population in Africa, big ambitions and huge potential. On the international level, Nigeria has been playing an increasingly significant role in the Human Rights Council in Geneva and is currently a member of the Security Council. It can, and I believe should, play an even more significant role on the international stage in the years to come, and its embrace of human rights will be a major element in deciding its future course both internally and internationally.
”One of the groups living in fear is Nigeria’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The new law known as the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition Act) goes far beyond prohibiting same sex marriage- which was illegal anyway.
”The law violates international law in that it is discriminatory and seriously impinges on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and could lead to human rights defenders advocating for the rights of LGBT people receiving draconian prison sentences.
”There is also concern among medical specialists that it will have serious negative consequences for public health in Nigeria, by driving LGBT persons underground and deterring them from signing up for HIV educational programmes, prevention, treatment and care services. Given that Nigeria currently has the second largest HIV epidemic in the world, this would be a heavy blow to the efforts to combat HIV.
”The law already appears to be having other dangerous side effects, even before it comes into force, with my office receiving reports of widespread arrests of LGBT people in some states, some physical attacks, including by mobs, and other forms of harassment such as a rise in blackmail and extortion. It is for these reasons, among others, that this law has aroused such controversy on the international level.
”As someone who grew up in South Africa under apartheid, and was discriminated against both because of my colour and my gender, I am acutely aware of the terrible effects of discrimination and intolerance.
”The UN Secretary General had roundly condemned the same sex marriage Act because we believe that it contravenes international laws and the African Union Charter which Nigeria signed to.