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The Nigerian Senate voted on Tuesday 29 November to criminalise same-sex marriages and civil unions, with penalties of up to 14 years jail for participants and 10 years jail for anyone who helps or witnesses such a marriage or union.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

1st December 2011 03:14

Alessia Valenza

Yesterday, Tuesday November 29, 2011, the Nigeria Senate unanimously outlawed same-sex marriages and banned public displays of affection between homosexual couples.

During the third reading, which determined the passage of the bill by the Senate, the Senators expressed their anger at the threats of aid conditionalities around homosexual rights expressed by the UK Prime Minister David Cameron in October.

In his statement the Senate President David Mark said, “Any country that does not want to give us aid or assistance, just because we hold on very firmly to our values, that country can (keep) their assistance.”

He added, “No country has the right to interfere in the way we make our laws, as we do not interfere into others.”

The bill appears different to that which was read at the public hearing a few weeks ago. Now, the bill additionally seeks to criminalise the registration of gay clubs, organisations and “same sex amorous relationships.”

The bill spells out a 14-year jail term for anyone entering into same-sex marriage or civil union and any who abet or aid such unions will receive 10 years.

The Senate will now send the bill to the lower chamber of the National Assembly as constitutionally provided. Members of the House of Representatives are expected to read the bill three times before voting on it. After that the bill will be sent to the President for assent into law.

As it stands currently, the bill appears as a great threat to human rights promotion and protection in Nigeria.

The Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Program- Erwin van de Borght said in a reaction to the unanimous vote at the Nigeria Senate yesterday, “By aiming to single out and deprive the rights of one group of people, this bill threatens all Nigerians by violating the country’s constitution and international human rights obligations.”

International opinion didn’t seem to trouble lawmakers, some of whom laughed and joked during the debate.

One senator however worried that the bill would hinder the tradition of Nigeria’s Igbo ethnic group in the southeast. In this community infertile wives are allowed to “marry” other women to bear their husbands’ children.

Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press news Agency, one senator said gays suffer from a “mental illness.”

If the bill becomes law, the new clauses added to the bill will have a negative effect on NGOs providing services to gay men and other men who have sex with men in Nigeria. These organizations, if registered, risk having their registration being cancelled.

So far, there has been no reaction from the National Agency on the Control of Aids (NACA) and other agencies addressing HIV and Aids issues amongst MSM in Nigeria.

Internationally the move by the Senate is regarded as a gross attempt to violate the human rights of Nigeria citizens. Nevertheless, the human rights community in Nigeria appears silent on the issue so far.

The fight against the bill has been that of a few human rights organizations, that believe in the universality of human rights: reinforcing that LGBT rights are human rights and should be promoted, protected and respected.

Currently, there is a perception of division within the Nigeria human rights community on the human rights of LGBTI persons in the Nigeria.