Faith and religion

43 anti-LGBT violations in Zambia; ‘accident waiting to happen’

Zambia's location in southern Africa

Zambia’s location in southern Africa

In the midst of a crackdown on homosexuals, Zambia has been the scene of at least 43 LGBT-related violations of people’s rights in the past six months, according to a new report by the local LGBT activist organization Friends of Rainka.

Even worse incidents could occur, the report suggests, because “the situation for LGBTI persons in Zambia at best can be described as volatile – simply an accident waiting to happen.”

The 43 recent incidents include many previously unreported cases of harassment, discrimination, beatings, and blackmail of LGBT people, in addition to more widely reported arrests and trials. The report cites the following examples in addition to cases that have been reported in the media:

• The beating up of two gay men aged 19 and 21 in Lusaka when they were allegedly found in compromising positions outside a nightclub. The two did not press any charges for fear of being arrested.
• One gay man being blackmailed by the heterosexual guy he had sex with. The heterosexual guy insists it wasn’t consensual sex and therefore he would report him if he does not pay him money.
• The proprietor of a guest lodge in Livingstone who was allegedly having sexual relations with one of his male workers who then reported this to the police. The accused has since fled the country.
• In Kitwe, an effeminate gay man was beaten up in a local pub at the height of state persecution of LGBT persons. He has since been taken to the village by his family for ‘cleansing’ to rid him of what they term as ‘the gay demon’. Several other parents are now ordering holy water from renowned Nigerian bishop TB
Joshua to heal their sons.
• Continued bullying of a 17-year-old grade 10 schoolboy in Lusaka by classmates over his perceived sexual orientation.
• Two 16-year-old schoolgirls in a boarding school in Mufulira, Copperbelt province, were allegedly caught having sex by the male sports master. He chased away one girl and raped the other. Thereafter he reported them to authorities after the rape victim threatened to expose him. The two girls have since been
expelled from the school.

Friends of Rainka and its members have been targeted repeatedly:

Friends of Rainka logo

Friends of Rainka logo

• The revocation of rent lease of Friends of RAINKA advocacy officer by the landlord after he appeared in an online paper speaking for the rights of LGBT persons.
• The visit to Friends of RAINKA offices in April 2013 by plain clothed policemen and the subsequent relocation of the office.
• The arrest and detention of Friends of RAINKA outreach officer in Kitwe on suspicion of being gay. He was released next day without charge.
• The removal from a family home of one of Friends of RAINKA who is a transgendered woman for participating in organisational activities.
• The coming-out stories from 3 staff members and how this affected their personal relationships with family, peers and the community.
• The victimisation of a Friends of RAINKA volunteer by the family, to the point of refusing to allow her to visit her younger sibling and trying to remove her as a beneficiary on her late parents’ estate on account of her perceived sexual orientation.
• The victimisation of a lesbian board member over her having come out to her family. She has been thrown out of the family fold and the family refuse to see her nor speak with her if she does not travel to Nigeria with them for exorcism. She was blocked from attending her own Father’s wake and, when she did, was ignored. Her inheritance is now being held by her Mother who says she can only be given when she repents.

Those are in addition to previously publicized cases:

• The arrest of a human rights activist after he appeared on TV to speak on the recognition LGBT rights. He is currently out on bail and suing the state on the constitutionality of his arrest in the Lusaka High Court.
• The arrest of two men accused of engaging in two counts of consensual sodomy in central province’s Kapiri in April, 2013, the duo remains incarcerated to this day.
• The arrest of a youth football coach accused of sleeping with two underage boys of 14 and 15 years of age. This case is still being heard in the courts of law.
• The arrests of two young men for sodomy in Lusaka in August, 2013, the duo are currently awaiting trial.

The Friends of Rainka report said that “arbitrary arrests and hate continue to be heaped on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) persons with impunity in a country that claims to embrace fundamental human rights principles to the point of ratifying them at regional and international policy and legislative environments.”

The Zambian legal system classifies consensual sex between people of the same sex in the same category as child rape, incest and bestiality.

“The word sodomy in the Zambian legal system is used loosely and often interchangeable with acts of child rape, defilement, incest and bestiality therefore causing a permeating
confusion with ‘consensual adult sodomy,’ ” the report states.

Zambian President Michael Sata (Photo courtesy of VOA.com)

Zambian President Michael Sata (Photo courtesy of VOA.com)

The ongoing crackdown on LGBT people comes in the context of anti-gay remarks that began most prominently in 2011, when current President Michael Sata was running for that office as leader of the Patriotic Front.  At that time, he rejected claims in the media that, if elected, his party would legalize homosexuality and gay marriage. He stated that existing laws against same-sex relations and same-sex marriage “should at all times be enforced by the relevant institutions to preserve the moral standards we have set for our nation.”

In February, 2012, on a visit to Zambia, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urged the country to adopt a constitution that protects the human rights of all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. In the resulting “media frenzy,” the report states, many political and religious leaders claimed the existence of a conspiracy involving the United Nations to export ‘gay rights’ to Zambia:

“In an intolerant Zambia, the Secretary General’s message was lost, as most Zambians felt that they were justified in hating and vilifying LGBTI persons who they consider as mentally unsound and whose ‘behaviour’ is often times, described to be worse than that of dogs.”

At the time, Zambia was in the midst of a drafting a new Constitution. Friends of Rainka submitted a recommendation that Article 27 of the proposed draft Constitution should provide protection from discrimination against marginalized groups.

The Human Rights Commission of Zambia (HRC) opposed that suggestion, stating that it
was too “open ended” and could provide protection to the LGBTI community:

‘The Human Rights Commission is of the view that this is a very progressive provision and has sought to capture as many groups as possible. However, … the provision itself is very open-ended and may lead to the handing of certain rights to or inclusion of certain groups that the people of Zambia may not be ready or willing to accept. In particular this concern
is directed at members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Inter-Sex (LGBTI) community.”

No protections for LGBT people were included in the proposed new Constitution, which is still under consideration.

The latest upsurge of anti-gay posturing began after “what is generally perceived as falsified reports of four gay couples that were reported to have ‘attempted’ to register for marriage in Lusaka, over the 2013 Easter period,” the report states. It adds:

Edgar Lungu, Zambian minister of home affairs

Edgar Lungu, Zambian minister of home affairs

The homosexuality debate raged, with politicians, faith-based leaders, traditionalists and ordinary citizens clambering to add their mostly negative opinion to the debate to the point of inciting violence and death by some quarters. Prominent in this debate was Home Affairs Minister and then Acting President, Edgar Lungu who was reported in the press as saying homosexuals should go to hell, amongst other hateful invectives.

This turn of events may have led to Zambia’s first arrests on the basis of consensual sodomy since its birth in 1964. The role of the state and religious leaders in proliferating violence against LGBTI persons cannot be overstated, the consequences that oftentimes follow such vitriolic hate increases incidents of violence against LGBTI persons; if not by state; but by non-state actors especially families and communities in which LGBTI persons live and work. The opinions of political and religious leaders coupled by negative media reporting can be blamed for the rise in incidents of violations against LGBTI persons based on their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

Fr. Leonard Chiti (Photo courtesy of Loyola University Chicago)

Fr. Leonard Chiti (Photo courtesy of Loyola University Chicago)

Following pronouncements made in June 2013 by U.S. President Barack Obama in Senegal calling on African governments to “decriminalise homosexuality,” several organisations in Zambia were quick to condemn this statement. And sounding the drum beat was Father Chiti of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), who said that Zambians had categorically rejected homosexuality in the constitution-making process. Yet again, Zambian opinion leaders held fast to the view that the oppression of minority groups is acceptable if instigated by a majority.

The Friends of Rainka report concludes:

The case for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Zambians cannot be overstated. The continued violence that they face from state and non-state actors is often unreported in the news, thereby creating a false delusion of tranquility in the Southern African Nation. As evidenced in recent months, one incident can set off an entire turn of negative events, the situation for LGBTI persons in Zambia at best can be described as volatile – simply an accident waiting to happen.

Although the state is fully aware that such persons exist in the country their refusal to acknowledge this fact and create safe spaces for meaningful debate promulgates incidents of violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, in so doing, the state fails in its duty to ensure equal protection for all citizens.

Needless to say, African politicians are in the business of winning elections and the fear of reprisals from the electorate on the basis of being seen as ‘pro-gay’ compounded by religious rhetoric makes many a politician shy away from enacting inclusive laws. The failure of the state as the duty bearers to advocate for meaningful protection of all its citizens leaves a gap that is left to be filled by a few individuals who dare to stick their necks in calling for the protection and meaningful inclusion of all Zambians often times; at great cost to themselves and their families.

This onerous task of ‘attempting ‘ to change mindsets by the ‘dreamers’ and idealists makes them more susceptible to defeat at the hands of the powerful and mostly ignorant majority, which in the long run may lead to increased violations and in some cases, this comes at the price of life, as has been experienced across this vast continent.

Selection of articles cited in the Friends of Rainka report:

— About the Paul Kasonkomona case:

— About Zambian sodomy cases:

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