Abuja, October 4th 2011
Sen. David Mark [GCON]
President of the Senate
National Assembly Complex
Three Arms Zone
Honourable David Mark,
We, the Members of the Coalition for the Defence of Sexual Rights (CDSR), human rights activist and other Civil Society Organizations working in the areas of human rights protection and social justice, wish to express and convey our disappointment and concern regarding the conduct of the public hearing by the Senate Committee on Human Rights and Judicial Matters on the proposed Same Gender Marriage Prohibition Bill 2011, which was held on Monday 31st, October 2011.
We would like to bring to the attention of the President of the Senate and the above mentioned committee that convened the public hearing about the unfair treatment of civil society representatives that were present to express their concerns regarding the bill and how it would affect human rights and civil liberties of Nigerians. In particular, the representatives of the CDSR were targeted by some members of the Committee and were not given equal opportunity and space to make statements during the proceeding of the hearing. We believe that the purpose of a public hearing is to obtain opinions from proponents and opponents regarding specific subject matter with balanced and unbiased audience given to those who wish to make statements. Our understanding of public hearing is that Committee members shall be impartial and not applaud/ indicate pleasure/displeasure with remarks. Furthermore, the Chairperson shall afford all presenters a fair opportunity for meaningful participation and shall moderate impartially. We feel that range of participants to be heard was supposed to be balanced to avoid biased information.
We would like to bring to the attention of the president of the Senate and the Members of the upper legislative house of the unfair and biased treatment towards members of the human rights community and members of the coalition, which lacked equal opportunity and space to make statements during the proceeding of the hearing.
We could not help but notice from the outcome of the public hearing on the Same Gender marriage Bill, 2011 that it was quite manifest that the committee members presiding over the hearing had already formed their opinion and taken a position on the subject matter. That was evident from their deliberate name calling and profiling of the CSO groups or individuals who were in opposition to the proposed Same Gender Marriage Prohibition Bill. The committee referred to mentioned groups as “the homosexual group” without taking cognisance of the nature and constituency of the CSO groups, its diversity and what they wish to be identified as. More importantly the constant attacks, labelling and targeting of CSO groups opposing the bill made it extremely challenging for them to expose their arguments and their concerns that were and are exclusively based on considerations regarding how the bill would, according to us, erode human rights and civil liberties in our country. The experience has been denigrating and humiliating and does not conform to democratic principles of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, prohibition of discrimination, and fair hearing.
Our collective work and efforts as members of the coalition and as civil society organizations is and always hinged on the protection and promotion of human rights and social justice, among which reproductive health and rights are included. We believe that the proposed bill, if approved, will cause patterns of discrimination and will lead to inhuman and degrading treatment by state and non-state actors of a group of Nigerians based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The provisions of the bill define same sex marriage in a vague and ambiguous way that has nothing to do with the legal definition of marriage as established by federal, state and customary law. We are convinced that these ambiguities of the bill will have severe implications on Nigerians, as they will create a climate of suspicion and will open the door to different interpretations and, consequently, to the likelihood of prosecution and persecution of individual irrespective of their sexual preference.
Furthermore, the approval of this law will also undermine the efforts to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS that Nigeria is undertaking, for which the National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA) conducted an important research, the Integrated Biological and Behavioural Surveillance Survey including Men having sex with men (MSM).
We therefore ask the President of the Senate and the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria:
- To carefully examine the statements and position papers submitted by members of the Coalition for the Defence of Sexual Rights and other CSOs for better understanding of the implications of the proposed Same Gender marriage Prohibition Bill, 2011 on human rights and civil liberties, health, tourism, and judicial process.
- To enact measures that would ensure a fair opportunity for meaningful participation during public hearings that should be conducted impartially for the sake and the promotion of democratic principles of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, prohibition of discrimination and fair hearing.
- To guarantee safety and protection for all individuals, including human rights defenders, irrespective of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or religious belief and opinion.
- To respect the obligations based on international human rights law to which the Federal Republic of Nigeria has committed itself by signing and ratifying international and regional instruments for the protection of human rights, most notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
- To withdraw the proposed Same Gender Marriage Prohibition Bill, 2011considering its potential severe implication on Nigerian citizens, irrespective of their sexual preference.
We hope that due thought and consideration is given in the deliberation of this bill and in bills that have the potential of affecting human rights and civil liberties that might be considered in the future, as well as with regard to the process of ensuring public hearings, which should pursue the goal of promoting Democratic Values and Human rights for all citizens and nation building.
Coalition for the Defence of Sexual Rights in Nigeria
Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova-Ogidi
Joseph Sewedo Akoro