The report states that religious leaders, by uttering hate speech against homosexuals and by describing homosexuality with words such as “ignoble practices”, “abnormality”, or “practices against nature”, have knowingly “contributed in fuelling homophobia in a country where homosexuals are already struggling to live peacefully with their families and the general community due to unacceptance and discrimination.”
In order to assess the role played by religious groups when the anti homosexuality bill was proposed and promulgated MOLI interviewed the leaders and one of them Monsignor Justin Nzoyisaba from the United Methodist Church, in the report, was quoted saying “homosexuality is indeed an illness, a vice introduced in Africa by westerners.”
On Desmond Tutu’s support to the fight for LGBTI people and rights, Nzoyisaba said “South Africans are like European people. They have reached a negative stage of development because they are deviating from biblical and African moral values.”
Monsignor Eli Buconyori, Bishop of the Free Methodist Church of Burundi pointed out that “It depends on what Tutu does himself,” and he believes that “homosexuality is a spiritual illness.”
In March 2009, during the national day of protest against homosexuality organised by the ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy, The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi released a statement in which it denounced “those who support ‘that practice’ under the pretext that homosexuality can be congenital”.
The statement further called “people not to promote homosexuality under the pretext of respecting people dignity and the freedom”
A member of The Good Shepherd Church explained that “Scriptures are very clear on which relations are acceptable. God has created a man and a woman to be together. Even though homosexual relations do exist, they are aimless because the main objective of a couple is to procreate. Homosexual practices are therefore unbiblical and against nature. ”
Meanwhile a young Muslim affirmed that homosexuality is “an illness one gets between 2 and 4 years-old.”
He said mothers usually know if their children have homosexual tendencies or not and that they must bring it to the attention of religious leaders in order for those children to be well taken care of,”
For Christian Rumu, Executive Director of MOLI, this is not surprising.
“More than 98 % of Burundians are believers and the majority of them are country people with lack of education. This usually leads to groundless interpretations of scriptures and a blind faith in what religious leaders say.”
“When the anti homosexuality bill was proposed, religious leaders cashed in on the situation and encouraged the government to maintain the disposition that criminalises homosexuality.”
Rumu vowed that MOLI will challenge the section 567 of the penal code that criminalizes homosexuality.
“It is important to withdraw that disposition from the penal code to avoid the resulting loss of safety and protection for LGBTI people. We will challenge this law before the constitutional court,” he explains.
He added, “We are working closely with organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Ligue Iteka and Lawyers without Borders. We also have the support of several European embassies. We will start our campaign in January 2011.”
“What is most difficult for us is to find leaders to engage with. Things are moving slowly but soon we will engage the debate between civil society and religious leaders on the issue of homosexuality” he concluded.
The Movement for Individual Freedoms (MOLI) is an organisation that aims to promote the rights of LGBTI people in Burundi and in the Great Lakes area. They focus on trainings, education and awareness campaigns on the rights and health of LGBTI people.
Its next report will focus on violence against homosexuals within the family circle.