Malawi gay trial a blow to human rights in Africa
The Times Editorial: Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza received the maximum 14-year jail sentence yesterday for being gay. Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa told a full courtroom in Lilongwe, Malawi, that it was against the nation's culture for one man to marry another.
"That is not even in our constitution," he said. "Some of these rights are not good for our culture."
The sentences were imposed because Chimbalanga and Monjeza committed the "unnatural act" of declaring their love for each other at an engagement ceremony in December. Two days later, they were arrested and jailed.
Human rights organisations have been critical of the treatment of homosexuals by Malawi and other African countries. The African section of Amnesty International has called the Malawi sentence "an outrage" and said it would continue to campaign to have it set aside and the two men set free.
South African human rights organisations have asked the government to condemn the trial and its outcome.
But there are those who will say that Malawi, as well as every other African country that upholds discriminatory laws against gays, is well within its sovereign rights. Africa is, after all, not a homogenous continent where all rules apply to all countries.
In South Africa, we have a liberal constitution that protects the freedom of all who live here - straight, gay, Christian, Muslim. But those laws do not always protect those we regard as "other". Instead, men in our society rape lesbians and beat up gays to mete out what they claim to be corrective punishment.
Sovereign rights aside, we should be talking about respecting and upholding a human rights culture that should prevail irrespective of a country's sovereignty.