According to reports, Nigeria’s parliament is in the process of approving legislation which is seen as a crackdown on the human rights of homosexuals.
The bill outlaws gay marriage, bans public displays of affection between homosexual couples and makes organisations advocating for gay rights illegal.
President Jacob Zuma is set to visit Nigeria on Saturday. He must use this as an opportunity to urge his Nigerian counterpart, President Goodluck Jonathan, to veto the bill on the grounds that it violates fundamental human rights.
Nigerian authorities have a questionable human rights record that includes:
• Its failure to prevent factional violence that has killed 14800 people in the past 12 years;
• Serious abuses by the Nigerian Police force including “arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial killings, torture and other ill-treatment”; and
• A history of what Human Rights Watch calls “violent and deeply flawed elections”.
The protection and promotion of human rights is officially a guiding principle of South Africa’s foreign policy.
It is incumbent on President Zuma to use his position as leader of an influential African nation to promote human rights on the African continent. However, he has thus far repeatedly failed to do so.
In October this year, the South African government remained silent when the Ugandan parliament re-opened debate on a bill that seeks to outlaw homosexuality and could be expanded to include the death penalty for gay men and lesbians. This bill would constitute a serious violation of human rights.
Last year, President Zuma saw fit to appoint Jon Qwelane as South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda. It is regrettable that the President chose to appoint Qwelane, known for his deeply prejudicial views, as our representative in a country marred by homophobic violence.
In his visit to Nigeria this week, President Zuma will have a unique opportunity to engage with the Nigerian president and encourage him to veto a deeply flawed piece of legislation.
We urge him to use this chance to do so.