The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), Global Rights, Interights and the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists have just concluded a groundbreaking four-day workshop on legal strategies for promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Africa. The meeting, the first-ever dialog between lawyers who have worked on litigation related to LGBT rights and African LGBT leaders, was held in Cape Town, South Africa and attended by 45 participants from 11 African countries— Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
Participants reviewed key pieces of litigation to document lessons learned. These cases included an unsuccessful challenge to Botswana’s sodomy laws in 2003 (Kanane v. Botswana), the prosecutions of 11 gay men in Cameroon in 2006, the arrests of two women in Rwanda on charges related to sexual orientation in 2008, and the ongoing trial of 18 young men in Northern Nigerian on charges of cross-dressing and homosexuality.
A high point of the meeting was the discussion of Ooyo and Mukasa v. Attorney General of Uganda, a case settled in December 2008, in which two transgender activists successfully challenged the unconstitutional invasion of their home and their mistreatment by local police and elected officials. One of the litigants, as well as the lead counsel, key donors, and local organizers from Uganda were present at the meeting.
Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s new Executive Director was present.
Lawyers, activist leaders and donors attending the meeting acknowledged the importance of impact litigation for repealing sodomy laws and challenging other discriminatory statutes and policies. Such litigation however needs to be situated within the context of local, national and regional LGBT organizing. Participants discussed the need for security for lawyers defending LGBT clients and causes. Many of the lawyers at the meeting had faced attacks on their reputations, attempts at disbarment, and even physical violence.
Participants ended the meeting with a call to create a multi-faceted LGBT legal fund for Africa and a training and support network for African lawyers working on sexual rights cases.