Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, has stirred controversy by stating that one of the reasons he received the Assisi Pax Prize, awarded each year to people who are promoting peace in the world, was because of his success in fighting homosexuality in the country.
Nkurunziza made this statement on 18 November in a radio and televised speech shortly after his return from Italy where the International Assisi Pax Association, a Catholic, peace promoting organisation, granted him the award.
“We received this prize because we have improved our Penal Code, in particular by saying no, to conditions that are against the values of the country such as people who have sex with same sex partners. We are proud to have fought those practices”, he said.
Outraged human rights defenders in that country said the president’s speech will further jeopardize living conditions of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.
“Clearly this statement will strengthen discrimination against our community in the media. The population and police forces will keep on insulting, arresting and extorting money from homosexuals”, Georges Kanuma, a Burundian human rights defender said.
According to Theophile Habonimana, another human rights defender in Burundi, Nkurunziza’s statement was “simply uncalled for.”
“This intervention is quite misplaced because the government has committed to international laws that protect human rights”, Habonimana said.
However these human rights defenders have sworn that neither the president nor the anti homosexuality law will stop them from fighting for the rights of LGBTI people in Burundi.
“I don’t think that the president can succeed in fighting homosexuality, he cannot defeat my willpower to fight for my rights and the rights of the LGBTI community in general”, Habonimana said.
Kanuma also insisted, “The president cannot succeed in fighting homosexuality and in any case no one can do it in the world. It amounts to condemning our brothers, sisters, neighbors and parents. As citizens who have a sexual orientation naturally different, we are determined to fight for our rights.”
In his unpopular statement Nkurunziza pointed out that the award was also a result of having abolished death penalty in Burundi.
Burundi officially passed the law criminalising homosexuality in April this year when the National Assembly went against the Senate’s rejection of the Bill.
Outlawing homosexuality was largely condemned by the international community and key donor countries.