What convinced you and your organisation “House Of Rainbow” to participate in the UPR process and prepare a report on the situation of LGBTI people in your country?
In 2008, after my unplanned and forceful departure from Nigeria, following a terrible state of media intrusion and homophobic attacks on myself and many of our members, we first sent a report to the United Nations about the situation in Nigeria, this later triggered off our first main interest to fight for change at the UN level, followed with an invitation to participate at the UN Assembly meeting in December 2008, then this culminated in the regular attendance and participation in the NGO response to African States under UPR at the UN in Geneva. We were convince that as Africans we are better off speaking out and standing up for justice and also to enhance the visibility for Black African LGBTI people, in order that the African States may understand that homosexuality is not a western or colonial phenomenon.
In the UPR process held at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, you have given voice to LGBTI issues as a representative of Pan Africa ILGA on behalf of various African countries which underwent the UPR review in 2010. Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Angola: How did you build your experience on UPR in order to be able to represent so many countries?
First we must understand the issues pertaining to each country, we must ensure that we are accurate with the country’s position on LGBTI issues, the discriminatory laws and its origin (i.e. if it were colonial laws) and whether or not they accept any of the member states recommendations on sexual orientation and gender identity. Second, we liaise with UN Delegates to the African nations based in Geneva, to find out their views and stands on the issues of discussion and above all so that they are aware of our submission, no one is caught unaware. Personally, I also research internet blogs, media contributions on LGBTI issues ascribe to the specific country, and these also give you a sense of the situation.
Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo or Côte d’Ivoire that you have been representing at the UPR session in Geneva are experiencing a very difficult human rights situation for all their citizens. Do you think it is the good moment to claim the rights of LGBTI minorities in those countries?
There is never a right or wrong time to enforce Human Rights initiatives for LGBTI people, especially in African countries. I personally believe that this current climate is conducive for LGBTI people and activists, to step up to the marks and ask for the Universal Human Rights of LGBTI people, the experience is based on the historical approaches to claim these rights, I believe in a democratic approach and a peaceful demonstration and dialogue, what is important is that we do not act unless we have a clarity from those at grassroots, this position help our pitch, how much or how little we can present.
At the UPR, you represented Yemen the constitution of which includes death penalty for consensual sexual relations between people of same sex, while in many other countries that you represented imprisonment is considered from 11 years to a life-long sentence. In which way could the UPR be a tool to eliminate this radical form of discrimination?
The UPR allows opportunities for reengagement with member states, Yemen and other countries in the Middle East such as Iran would require a much more stringent approach, and I believe that as long as we keep pressure on the government and also use the world media to address these issues, there is an opportunity to embarrass the governments. These are not the kind of politics that we pursue however, if this makes the government to rethink then we consider it worthwhile. However the best approach we have adopted at the UPR is to enter into a diplomatic discourse, as the paramount concern if for the safety of LGBTI people in the countries.
How do you work with local groups in the countries that you are representing for the UPR and who cannot be present in Geneva?
It is important to work with the local organisations in every nation represented, these has not been easy as many are closeted and in fear of any reprisals, they are also far away, we often will hold a teleconference with activist on ground and sometimes with colleagues in the Diaspora, what has been useful is to get information on current cases and also to gauge how far we can stretch the government, we are mindful to ensure that the voice of the local people are represented and their wishes respected. We ensure consultation fully with local activist, to ensure that our responses are accurate and we keep everyone posted of the outcome at the end of the sessions.
What would you say to LGBTI organisations which are hesitant to be involved in the UPR process in order to convince them to take part in this process?
There is a great advantage for LGBTI organisations to participate in the UPR, the opportunity to present the matters of concern are rewarding, many countries are often shamed and embarrassed when they are brought to the Human Rights Council on the breach of LGBTI Rights, for example in 2008, The Nigerian Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe denied the abuse and existence of LGBTI people only to be presented and confronted with the evidence.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a new Human Rights peer review monitoring tool established by the United Nations in 2006. Each year 48 States are being reviewed by other States; in a timeframe of four years all the 192 UN member States in the world will have been reviewed. The review consists of four main steps: elaboration of reports; interactive dialogue with among member States; adoption of the outcome of recommendations: implementation and follow-up. The various procedures involve States, international and national NGOs, national human rights institutes and other stakeholders.
In 2009 the 4th UPR session reviewed Nigeria together with 15 other countries. NGO reports have to be submitted seven months ahead of the Review session.
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