n African Human Rights Law Journal - The protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation under the African human rights system

Volume 15, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



Recent legislation proposed or passed in Nigeria, Uganda and The Gambia has put the spotlight on the plights of homosexual persons living in sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, discriminatory laws prohibit same-sex marriages and ban gay clubs and organisations. In Uganda, the Prohibition of the Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill of 2014, with contents similar to the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act, is being considered after a ruling by the Ugandan Constitutional Court rendering the Anti-Homosexuality Act unconstitutional. In The Gambia, the Penal Code has been amended recently to add the crime of 'aggravated homosexuality' with a lifetime prison sentence for any person found guilty. The rights to dignity and equality are protected under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights; however, competing local and global values are arguably growing in Africa, challenging this right. This article explores two main problems: first, how the rights to dignity, equality and non-discrimination should generally be interpreted and applied under the regional African human rights system when related to sexual orientation. In this regard I draw on the interpretation of these rights under international human rights law as well as the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and its Inter-American counterpart. Second, it analyses the procedural or other hurdles that may stand in the way of brining a claim of discrimination based on sexual orientation to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights or the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. In this regard, I specifically consider the general restrictions placed on individuals and NGOs in bringing complaints to the Court and the real potential of the Commission to act as a conduit to the Court in cases involving rights related to sexual orientation, bearing in mind its inconsistent approach to same-sex sexuality. The article addresses these questions by analysing some key developments by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The main objective is to utilise the approach of these institutions to explore both the legal avenues under the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights and the rights and obligations under the African Charter available to anyone who would want to challenge any domestic law criminalising same-sex consensual sexual acts and/or any of the other related prohibitions.

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