The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) is outraged at the sentencing of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga to 14 years in prison and hard labor for charges of unnatural acts and gross indecency. The two have been imprisoned since last December, when they were arrested shortly after their engagement ceremony.
Most disturbing about this atrocious ruling is that the two were explicitly given the maximum possible sentence. The BBC reports that Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa told the pair: "I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example."
This harsh sentencing is a watershed moment in a series of recent discriminatory actions not only in Africa, but also in Central America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and the Middle East – highlighting the terrifying potential of what has become a global backslide on the human rights of men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people.
“I am speechless with horror,” said Dr. Robert Carr, Co-Chair of the MSMGF and Associate Director of Policy & Advocacy at the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO). “This sentence and the law under which it was carried out go against everything we know about human rights, everything we know about public health.
“They have no qualms about treating gay men and transgender people like animals, and this same thinking is expressed by numerous member states of the United Nations. As a global community, we have to do better than this. We cannot allow blatant human rights violations to openly occur under the dubious banner of ‘cultural’ or ‘moral’ values – they have to be seen for what they are: shameful.”
HIV, health and human rights organizations around the world were quick to condemn the ruling, many pointing to human rights abuses against MSM leading to elevated risk of HIV. UNAIDS urged all governments to ensure full respect for the human rights of MSM and other sexual minorities by repealing laws that prohibit sexual acts between consenting adults in private, enforcing laws to protect these groups from violence and discrimination, promoting campaigns that address homophobia and transphobia, and ensuring that crucial health needs are met.
“Words fail to capture the scale of my distress, but our collective outrage is not enough,” asserted Dr. George Ayala, MSMGF Executive Officer. “It is incumbent upon all those who value health and human rights – especially thought leaders in health, justice, and government around the world – to publically denounce this and all forms of violence and criminalization against same-gender loving and transgender people, to work to free Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga and others whose rights have been unjustly taken away, and to re-commit ourselves to realizing the vision of a world with health and dignity for all.”