A new report has highlighted the enormous scale of discrimination and abuse experienced by LGBTI people living in the African nation of Ghana, both in public and in a family setting.
The 72-page Human Rights Watch report specifies how the nations colonial-era legislation punishing “unnatural carnal knowledge” specifically targets LGBTI Ghanaians to essentially make them second-class citizens.
“Having a law on the books that criminalises adult consensual same-sex conduct contributes to a climate in which LGBT people are frequently victims of violence and discrimination,” Explained Wendy Isaack, who is an LGBTI rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Homophobic statements by local and national government officials, traditional elders, and senior religious leaders foment discrimination and in some cases, incite violence.”
To obtain the results of the study, Human Rights Watch interviewed 114 LGBT people in Accra, Tamale, Kumasi, and Cape Coast in December 2016 and February 2017 for the report.
It also interviewed representatives of human rights organisations based in Ghana, a Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) complaints officer, the assistant police commissioner, and three diplomats who reside in the nation.
Isaack added, “The government should recognise that we are human beings, with dignity, not treat us as outcasts in our own society,” said a 40-year old lesbian from Cape Coast.
“We want to be free, so we can stand tall in public and not deal with obstacles and harassment daily. This will make it easier for us to get an education, learn a trade, get jobs and be useful and productive Ghanaians.”
While highlighting much discrimination, Human Rights Watch also acknowledged that the Ghana Police Service has at times responded appropriately to abuses against LGBT people, for example in cases of false accusation and blackmail of gay men in Tamale.
The organisation’s report also found that LGBTI people have been attacked by mobs or by members of their own families in Ghana.
In August 2015, in Nima, a town in the Accra region, members of Safety Empire, a vigilante group, brutally assaulted a young man they suspected was gay, while In May 2016, in a village outside Kumasi in the Ashanti region, the mother of a young woman organised a mob to beat up her daughter and another woman because she suspected they were lesbians and in a same-sex relationship. The two young women were forced to flee the village.
Human Rights Watch pointed out that this law is inconsistent with basic tenets of the Ghanaian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law, respect for human dignity and the right to privacy.
The group has since urged Ghana authorities to engage in a constructive dialogue with the LGBTI community to better understand its needs, and ensure that the necessary legislative and policy measures are taken to ensure their safety, dignity, and equality.
“LGBT Ghanaians should have the same protection from the government as everyone else,” Isaack said. “And the government should work to address the stigma that subjects people to violence in their own homes, the place where they should feel safest.”