HRW calls on Zambian leaders to condemn homophobic statements

Lusaka- Zambia (PANA) -- Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said the recent homophobic statements by religious leaders and government authorities risk undermining Zamb i aâ?s fight against HIV/AIDS.
It therefore called on government authorities to condemn statements that could d iscourage men who have sex with men from seeking health care and erode their fun d amental human rights and to reaffirm the importance of HIV testing and treatment for these men.
According to a release issued Friday, HRW, in a letter to Zambian leaders on 17 May, also urged the Zambian Parliament to amend the Penal Code to decriminalize c onsensual sexual conduct among adults.
â?Zambia has a strong track record on addressing HIV/AIDS,â? said Joseph Amon, Health and Human Rights director at Human Rights Watch.
â?However, promoting intolerance and creating a climate of fear will only sabot age efforts to ensure access to HIV prevention and treatment by driving men unde r ground.
â? Zambian religious leaders and government authorities have in recent weeks made a series of statements in the media condemning homosexuality.
Human Rights Watch noted that while the National AIDS Council acknowledged in 20 09 the â?urgent needâ? to include men who have sex with men in national AIDS st rategies, its chairman, recently criticized donor countries for speaking out on b ehalf of the Zambian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population a n d characterized the donor countriesâ? efforts as being â?against the traditiona l values of the country.
â? The statements from Zambian authorities and religious leaders came on the heels of homophobic statements and violence in neighboring countries, said Human Right s Watch.
It cited Zimbabwe, where in March, President Robert Mugabe condemned efforts to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in the new constitution, sayin g people engaging in homosexual behavior are â?destroying nationhoodâ?.
Mugabe h as previously referred to homosexuals as â?worse than dogs and pigsâ?.
In February, vigilante violence broke out against suspected homosexuals in Kenya as a mob targeted a government health centre providing HIV/AIDS services, HRW c h arged.
In Malawi, in January, two individuals who conducted an engagement ceremony were put on trial under a law criminalizing homosexual conduct.
Uganda introduced a draft â?anti-homosexualityâ? bill in October 2009, which i ncludes the death penalty for certain offences.
It charged that efforts to include men who have sex with men in Zambian HIV test ing and treatment programmes are also seriously hampered by laws criminalizing c o nsensual homosexual conduct among adults.
These laws were imposed on Zambia as a measure of social control under British c olonial rule and they violate domestic as well as international human rights sta n dards.
Sections 155, 156 and 158 of Zambiaâ?s Penal Code, which criminalize homo sexual conduct, stand in direct opposition to the Zambian Constitution, which gu a rantees every individual the right to privacy and also prohibits discrimination.

21 may 2010 15:21:00

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