Bureau Régional pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest
Combatting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity©

Combatting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

“Some say that sexual orientation and gender identity are sensitive issues. I understand. Like many of my generation, I did not grow up talking about these issues. But I learned to speak out because lives are at stake, and because it is our duty under the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to protect the rights of everyone, everywhere.” — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Human Rights Council, 7 March 2012

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
Homophobic and transphobic attitudes are deeply rooted in societies all over the world, exposing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons of all ages to gross human rights violations. LGBT persons are subjected to “everyday discrimination” and stigmatisation - including in education, healthcare, housing, employment, and often even within their families. They are singled out for physical attack – beaten, sexually assaulted, tortured and killed.

Out of the 15 countries that constitute the West African region, nine countries have legislations that effectively criminalise private, consensual same-sex relations. These restrictive laws are often expressed in vague terms, which exposes large numbers of people to the risk of arrest and imprisonment for a wide range of actions, whether it be for pro-LGBT activism, for being found to engage in same sex relations, or even on suspicion of being gay.

In some countries, legal rights of LGBT persons have recently become even more restricted. In January 2014, Nigeria’s government passed amendments to existing laws to widen the conditions of imprisonment and to exact harsher punishments. Similarly, in October 2014 in The Gambia a Criminal Code (Amendment) Act introduced provisions that create a broad and vague offence of "aggravated homosexuality" that could be used to imprison for life adults engaging in same-sex consensual sexual relations, in violation of fundamental human rights. In August 2015, the justice system in Senegal convicted seven men for “crimes against nature”.

Protecting the human rights of LGBT persons
Protecting LGBT people from violence and discrimination does not require the creation of a new set of LGBT-specific rights. The legal obligations of States to safeguard the human rights of LGBT people are well established in international human rights law on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequently agreed international human rights treaties. All people, irrespective of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, are entitled to enjoy the protections provided for by international human rights law, including in respect of rights to life, security of person and privacy, the right to be free from torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

The core obligations of States with respect to protecting the human rights of LGBT people include :

  • Protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence.
    Prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
  • Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality and transgender people.
  • Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Safeguard freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all LGBT people.

For more information on applicable international human rights standards in this context, please refer to the Born Free and Equal booklet.

Positive developments
The issue is receiving unprecedented attention at an inter-governmental level. Since 2003, the General Assembly has repeatedly called attention to the killings of persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In June 2011 and in September 2014, the Human Rights Council adopted resolutions on sexual orientation and gender identity – expressing “grave concern” at violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The High Commissioner for Human Rights produced two reports on the topic. The latest one, published in May 2015, aims to share good practices and ways to overcome violence and discrimination.

In May 2014, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted resolution 275 in which it “strongly urges States to end all acts of violence and abuse, whether committed by State or non-state actors, including by enacting and effectively applying appropriate laws prohibiting and punishing all forms of violence including those targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identities, ensuring proper investigation and diligent prosecution of perpetrators, and establishing judicial procedures responsive to the needs of victims” .

What we do
The promotion and protection of the human rights of the LGBT communities of West Africa falls clearly under the OHCHR WARO’s thematic priority of Fighting Discrimination and the office therefore considers it imperative to stand up in defence of the communities’ enjoyment of their basic human rights.

The WARO works closely with States, local associations, LGBT human rights defenders, NGOs and partners in the public and political spheres to promote and protect people from violence and discrimination on grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our activities include :

  • Raising concerns and putting forward recommendations for reform in the context of dialogue with Governments.
  • Monitoring and bringing to light patterns of human rights violations affecting LGBT persons, as in cases of arrest.
  • Engaging in public advocacy, including through speeches and the distribution of information materials.
  • Organizing sensitization and training workshops on the human rights of LGBT persons and facilitating a constructive dialogue on the topic.
  • Providing support to UN human rights mechanisms to highlight key concerns and develop specific recommendations.

Free & Equal
Free & Equal is an United Nations global public education campaign for LGBT equality. Free & Equal raises awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, and promotes greater respect for the rights of LGBT people everywhere. The campaign engages millions of people around the world in conversations to help promote the fair treatment of LGBT people and generate support for measures to protect their rights.

Learn more about the human right challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and the actions that can be taken to combat violence and discrimination and protect the rights of LGBT people everywhere. These UN factsheets break down the facts :

Watch the short video One Billion Rising to learn more about the campaign’s work and impact to date.

PDF - 271.3 ko
UN Declaration Against Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
PDF - 276.2 ko
La Déclaration de l’ONU contre la discrimination basée sur l’orientatation sexuelle et l’identité de genre

Sur le terrain

Actualités thématiques