Malawi President charts change of course on homosexuality

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Joyce Banda, President of Malawi

The President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, declared on Friday its intention to abolish laws that condemn homosexual acts in the country, thus going against the trend in Africa, where homosexuals are increasingly threatened with prosecution. Mrs. Banda, who became president of Malawi in April after the death of his predecessor, announced her intentions in her first speech to the nation Friday.

“The indecency laws and abnormal acts should be repealed,” she said. But such a change will require parliamentary approval and it is not known yet how many of them are ready to support the president.

Malawi has faced international condemnation for the conviction in 2010 of 14 years in prison for two men who had celebrated their wedding. They were convicted of “abnormal acts” and gross indecency.

The then president, Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned the two men for “strict humanitarian reasons”, while claiming that they had committed “crimes against our culture, our religion and our laws.” Mutharika died in office on April 5. Joyce Banda, who was vice president, took his place until the end of the presidential term in 2014, under the Constitution.

In her speech, Ms. Banda also said her government wanted to normalize relations with “traditional development partners” in Malawi who were “not comfortable with our bad laws.”

The President’s speech was applauded by human rights leaders, stressing however that the support of parliamentarians is far from won.

“The issue of homosexuality is a very contentious issue, said the activist Undule Mwakasungula. This will certainly cause controversy in Parliament. “In South Africa, the only African country that has laws protecting gay rights, activist Mark Heywood thinks Ms. Banda will receive international support.

“I hope she can be convincing in his own country,” he qualified. The South African Constitution of 1996 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Homosexuals have the right to get married since 2006, but still face discrimination and violence.

“It is very important that other African countries are moving in that direction, said Mr Heywood. Symbolically, I think it is very important for Africa. ”

In Uganda, the parliamentarian David Bahati in 2009 introduced a bill that proposed to impose the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. The project was denounced by the international community and has not yet become law. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda.

After the presentation of the bill, a Ugandan tabloid published a list of “biggest gay in the country.” The list included the name of an activist for the rights of gays who was then murdered, in what many saw as a hate crime.

Last year, Nigeria’s Senate approved a bill designed to criminalize gay marriage, advocacy groups, gay rights and public displays of affection between same sex couples. Under a new provision added to the law, people convicted of organized, managed or supported clubs or homosexual organizations are liable to 10 years in prison.

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