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PV 05/07/2012 - 17.1
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Thursday, 5 July 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17.1. Violence against lesbians and LGBT rights in Africa (debate)
Video of the speeches

  President. – The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on violence against lesbian women and LGBT rights in Africa(1).


  Marina Yannakoudakis, author. – Mr President, I would like to tell you a story about Teresa, who is a lesbian woman who fled from Uganda and came to my constituency of London. When Teresa’s father found out she was a lesbian, he beat her and then he tried to burn her. After that, he told the police about her and the police came and forced her into a cell. The next day, two policemen came and they raped her. The following day, three policemen came and they beat her, and they raped her, and one of them urinated in her mouth. After that, Teresa spent the following year in this stinky little cell being beaten every day, raped every day, and being forced to tell who she knew was a lesbian. During the year, Teresa became pregnant and she gave birth in her cell alone to a stillborn baby. This baby was left to rot next to her for weeks.

Teresa managed to leave and escape and, in 2006, she came to London where she now lives. She is deaf because of the beatings. Teresa is not exceptional. I was unfortunately told by the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group that Teresa is typical of women in North Africa who are lesbians. Teresa, this resolution is for you, and for all the women who suffer for their sexuality.


  Edit Bauer, author. (HU) Mr President, I wish to stress that the problems of African lesbian women go far beyond the level of everyday discrimination, as Ms Yannakoudakis has also pointed out. Being a lesbian is illegal in 27 African countries, while for men, being gay is banned by law and strictly punished in 38 African countries. We know of several cases in recent months of women being killed because of being lesbian in various African countries. A law banning lesbianism was passed in Malawi this year, while a draft law that would even punish witnesses of lesbian encounters is on the agenda in Nigeria. Even in South Africa, where the constitution bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, so-called corrective rapes are a continuing practice that is not in decline, with several deaths even having been reported in the recent past. One victim was mutilated and burnt alive. Mr President, we are all born equal, and we believe that the European Parliament must not allow the murder of human beings, of women and men, to pass without comment.


  Ulrike Lunacek, author.(DE) Mr President, I have listened to Ms Bauer with great interest. However, I am very surprised and extremely disturbed to learn that her group plans to withdraw its support for this report, despite what Ms Bauer had to say yesterday at our shadow rapporteurs’ meeting, indicating that her group would join us in combating violent crime against lesbian women in Africa and supporting equal rights for lesbians and gays, and despite the egregious violations of the human rights of lesbian women and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) persons.

I believe this motion for a resolution is extremely important for the European Parliament because the issue at stake here is the defence of human rights in all parts of the world and because this motion calls on the European External Action Service and all representatives of the European Union to uphold these rights and to support the fight against violence perpetrated on lesbian women – widespread violence involving so-called corrective rapes intended to cure women of their lesbianism. People seem to be unaware that this withdrawal is unacceptable. All six groups really need to act as one in this case.

Only last weekend, the LGBT community in South Africa again found itself burying three lesbian women, a transgender woman and a gay man, all of whom had met violent deaths. This is happening in a country that was the first in the world to introduce non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in its new constitution in 1995.

This course should be taken not only by South Africa, but by Africa as a whole.


  Marietje Schaake, author. – Mr President, we have fought long and hard to address, at last, the extensive violence against LGBT people in Africa. Sadly, even in the House, too many Members are unwilling to condemn the murder of other human beings only because of their sexual orientation. It is shocking and does not suit the Europe I believe in.

The problem we are facing is serious and systemic if we consider that, out of the 76 countries worldwide where homosexuality is illegal, 38 are in Africa. In several African countries, we see the so-called ‘corrective’ rape of women who are alleged to be lesbians. When such crimes are committed, the perpetrator should face justice, and where there is institutionalised criminalisation, this should end.

Let me also highlight some good news. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has spoken out, calling for an end to these kinds of injustice. It is important to have more role models like him joining this call. The EU should continue to work with partners and civil society organisations and continue to lead the way in combating violence and discrimination against LGBT people throughout the world.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))


  Bernd Posselt (PPE), Blue-card question.(DE) I would like to ask Ms Schaake how she concludes that there are numerous Members of this House who are unwilling to condemn murder, violence and human rights violations against homosexuals. This is absolutely not the case; the simple fact is that we are opposed to the combining of a human rights provision with a socio-political issue. If you take a closer look at our resolution, you will see that it absolutely and unambiguously opposes every murder and every human rights violation. I would ask you to take this on board.


  Marietje Schaake, Blue card answer. – I did not necessarily hear a question.

Let me just say that, over three years of negotiating urgency resolutions on universal human rights, there have been countless instances where Members of this House have tried to eliminate any reference to LGBT rights and violations of the rights of people, whether through discrimination, violence or murder.

I want to highlight the fact that this is regrettable and damaging to our credibility in the EU. Human rights are universal; LGBT rights are human rights and that is the end of the story. I think it is important that we highlight the vulnerabilities in our own community by addressing these important issues.


  Britta Thomsen, author. (DA) Mr President, even though the calendar says 2012, we still find that homosexuality is taboo in many places in the world and that homosexual, bisexual and transgender people are persecuted and subjected to violence, violations and humiliation. It is totally unacceptable for the human rights of a particular group to be violated simply because they belong to a minority.

When we look at what is happening in Africa, there is still a great deal to fight for. Here, even the most basic rights are non-existent, and our resolution today on violence against lesbian women and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons in Africa is therefore – sadly – both relevant and necessary. Violence, rape and discrimination against lesbian women occur on a daily basis, both in the form of corrective rape, but also via discriminatory legislation, which prohibits homosexuality and, in the worst case, provides for the death penalty.

Lesbian women in Africa face a double whammy: they are vulnerable on account of their sexuality and also because they are women. To be a woman in Africa is fraught with danger. Gender-based violence and rape occur frequently and it is rare for the perpetrators to be prosecuted.

With this joint motion for a resolution today, we want to call for an end to these abhorrent acts, particularly in the 38 African countries in which homosexuality is prohibited by law. We call on the EU institutions to exert pressure on these countries through negotiations and in cooperation and trade agreements. We call on the African activists, non-governmental organisations and individuals to continue this fight, and for the EU to support the progressive forces that want real improvements in the conditions for LGBTI persons.


  Marie-Christine Vergiat, author. (FR) Mr President, the fate of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Africa is of increasing concern. In several sub-Saharan African countries, homosexuality still carries the death penalty. In 27 countries, it is punishable under criminal law. In the case of women, the number rises to 38.

These issues are exploited for political or religious purposes. Homosexuality is denounced as a disease of the West, while homophobia was, in fact, imported from the West by religious people. Several countries are strengthening their repressive laws in this area and, although anti-discrimination legislation exists, it is poorly applied and, in some cases, not applied at all.

Women are even more discriminated against than men. They are victims twice over, as women and as lesbians. The accusation of homosexuality is even used to reduce them to silence when they dare assert their right to be different as well as their rights to autonomy and, more generally, equality, not to mention ‘corrective’ rapes.

Only a few African leaders, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu or Joyce Banda, the new President of Malawi, dare go against the tide. The situation of LGBTs is particularly difficult since they do not have a neighbouring country where they can seek refuge, with discrimination and persecution rife across virtually the entire continent. An analysis of the situation in South Africa, long considered a sort of El Dorado, is worrying.

The European Union simply must not remain silent, but words alone are not enough either. More than ever, it must support the networks that campaign against such discrimination and make these issues a key aspect of the political dialogue with African countries.

The European Union must also throw its doors wide open to those, men and women, who seek asylum because they are victims of discrimination in this area.


  Eija-Riitta Korhola, on behalf of the PPE Group. (FI) Mr President, this is a very important and serious issue indeed, and I myself was one of the signatories to the resolution. Violence and discrimination against sexual minorities are a problem the world over. In Africa, however, the situation seems to be getting worse every day. Homosexuality is a crime that carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and in parts of Somalia and Nigeria. A new legislative proposal might also make capital punishment the penalty for homosexuality in Uganda.

I am particularly concerned about a practice that has become familiar in South Africa, where lesbians and transsexual women are being raped in order to ‘correct’ their sexual orientation. One example of this was the case of the female footballer, Eudy Simelane, in 2009.

All countries have an obligation to prevent violence and social labelling on the basis of sexual orientation. Everyone has a right to enjoy the protection of society, regardless of sexual orientation. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists must also be protected. There is good news, though: I am glad to report that some African countries have now announced that they are opposed to the criminalisation of homosexuality.


  Liisa Jaakonsaari, on behalf of the S&D Group. (FI) Mr President, Africa is a place of strong women. They run the homes there, as well as the villages, and this strength must be partly due to the fact that women are heavily discriminated against. We all know that genital mutilation goes on, an appalling practice, but those women who are human rights activists and alternatively sexually oriented are the targets of even greater discrimination. That is why this debate here is so very necessary.

The labelling and abuse that we have been talking about here, and regarding which I heard the term ‘corrective rape’ – and let that be an example – must be condemned. The authorities in Africa must protect all women, including lesbians. The European Union should give all its support to this effort and, furthermore, urge political and religious leaders to act on behalf of human rights.


  Kristiina Ojuland, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, the situation of the LGBT people in Africa is increasingly distressing, with anti-homosexual legislation being considered or applied, as well as the ongoing violence and discrimination.

In fact, the negative stance of many African governments towards the rights of sexual minorities has incited further extrajudicial violence and fostered a sense of impunity. Women, in particular, fall victim to ‘corrective rape’ and murder. The European Union should counter it by applying conditionality in its relations with such countries, in particular, with regard to development aid.

The European External Action Service should make further efforts to mainstream our fight against homophobia. Decriminalisation of homosexuality, stopping violence and discrimination and protecting LGBT activists must be emphasised within dialogues with the African countries concerned.


  Raül Romeva i Rueda, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. All states have the obligation to prevent violence and incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, and to respect the principles of equality between women and men.

However, the stigmatisation of, and the violence against, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, as well as against women perceived to be so, by state and police forces, the women’s families and community members is far from disappearing in many countries.

Today, we are concentrating on the situation of women in Africa, where female homosexuality is legal in 27 countries and illegal in another 27. Thus, I am glad that this Parliament strongly condemns all forms of violence and discrimination against lesbians in African countries where this is taking place, including extreme forms of violence, such as corrective rapes and other forms of sexual violence.


  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, unfortunately, over 30 countries on the African continent consider homosexuality to be a crime. There are often severe punishments for both men and women convicted of engaging in homosexual relations, some countries even mandating the death penalty. The abhorrent practice of corrective rape is equally endemic across Africa.

I call upon these governments who tacitly sanction or turn a blind eye to these acts of violence and discrimination to honour their obligations as signatories to legally binding international human rights instruments and conventions which should be at the forefront of all EU agreements with these countries in Africa.

Indeed, a hallmark of a modern progressive society is one which does not discriminate or stigmatise on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. I welcome therefore the concrete steps taken by a swathe of sub-Saharan African countries who have pledged to reform their existing laws, decriminalise homosexuality and improve social conditions and sexual health conditions for LGBT people.


  Seán Kelly (PPE).(GA) Mr President, I am glad to participate in this debate because violence against anyone is unacceptable, in particular violence by men, usually, against women because of their sexual orientation. We denounce this here today.

Unfortunately, right across Africa, there is a kind of cultural tradition based on non-tolerance of LGBTs in any form. This, of course, is tragic and we must certainly do all we can to end it. But even in countries such as South Africa, which, in 1996, became the first country in the world to bring non-discrimination based on sexual orientation into its constitution, the practice is entirely different. There are numerous examples of women in particular being violated in the most appalling way based on sexual orientation.

This is not acceptable and we, as the world’s biggest donor, must insist that right across Africa, as part of our aid to them, laws are enacted and, in particular, ensure that nobody gets away with violations of this kind.


  Nicole Kiil-Nielsen (Verts/ALE). (FR) Mr President, the issue of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Africa keeps appearing on the parliamentary agenda, and with good reason. Two thirds of African countries have repressive laws in this area and, as has already been mentioned, South Africa is currently regressing on this issue.

Today, I would like to talk to you about the documentary made in Uganda by two women on the situation of LGBT people. During filming, in 2010, David Kato, an iconic figure in the fight of LGBTs in Africa, was assassinated. This documentary then changed dimension, and the message of tolerance and hope it bears must be disseminated as widely as possible. I would therefore like to invite you to see this film, which is entitled Call me Kuchu, and to encourage its distribution in all Member States to let them know of the fate of the Kuchus and to not let silence make them disappear.

I will leave you with this phrase spoken by David Kato: ‘They keep saying we do not exist, but we definitely do’.


Catch-the-eye procedure


  Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (PPE). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, today’s debate seems full of contradictions to me, because this Chamber – encouraged by some groups – has always been committed to recognising gay and lesbian rights in Europe which, however, are still not recognised in the constitutions of some Member States – gay marriage, for example.

These same Members who always push for recognition of these rights today accuse some of not wanting to recognise and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons living outside Europe from discrimination. This is certainly not under discussion: all discrimination suffered by the LGBT community living outside Europe must be strongly condemned by everyone; the individuals who are victims of it, corrective rapes, these are issues we are discussing today.

However, if we want to treat this debate as a serious one, the only way we can do so is to confirm the introduction of the principle of conditionality in relations with other States: any type of agreement, even trade agreements, that Europe has with these States must depend on them guaranteeing respect for human rights. If this does not happen, we have made another resolution which could perhaps show solidarity to someone, but which will not have any effect


  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (S&D). (PL) Mr President, there is increasing violence against people with differing sexual orientation in African countries. According to estimates by LGBT organisations, these persons are more likely to be victims of harassment, physical attacks, arrests and even murder. Homosexuality is currently illegal in 38 African countries, and in Mauritania, Yemen, parts of Nigeria, Gambia and Somalia, it is punishable by death.

LGBT persons are not only marginalised as citizens by their own governments; they are in no way protected by the governmental executive authorities. Homophobia, which prevails among the police in those countries, in practice means that there is no guarantee of protection or safety. African authorities should condemn all manifestations and acts of incitement to hatred and violence, and punish perpetrators of similar acts. The European Union can play a significant role in this matter in the context of the cooperation agreements concluded with African countries by pushing for equal treatment of all citizens regardless of sexual orientation.


  Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE).(SV) Mr President, we heard the profoundly tragic story of Teresa earlier, but, unfortunately, this is a story that is repeated thousands of times over right across Africa. Four republics of hate – Mauritania, Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria – even have the death penalty for love.

The fact that 38 countries in Africa prohibit love is deeply tragic, but an amendment to the law can start to break with that norm. It will not go all the way, but it is a start. All love is good love. People and societies grow when it flows freely. The concept of corrective rape is completely absurd. The only ones that need correction are those who carry out such despicable acts.


  Timothy Kirkhope (ECR). – Mr President, last year, the British Prime Minister made clear his support for gay rights when he said that African countries which persecute homosexuals will have their aid cut unless they stop punishing people in those relationships. The British International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, subsequently carried out this threat and cut aid to Malawi by GBP 19 million after two gay men were sentenced to 14 days’ hard labour.

This announcement caused quite a stir, and it is not yet clear that this will be a completely effective way of aiding human rights on the ground, but nevertheless it is the right thing. The point that my Prime Minister was trying to make is clear: imprisonment, corporal punishment and sexual violence, including the horrendous practice of corrective rape, are wholly unacceptable to all civilised peoples.


  Peter Šťastný (PPE). (SK) Mr President, regardless of who thinks what, and who agrees or disagrees with alternative lifestyles, we must all agree that violence is no solution. The EU must be a guarantor and a strong promoter of the principle that all people are equal. Rights, freedoms and dignity must be respected for every individual in all corners of the earth.

If, somewhere in Africa, in the name of historical custom and tradition, there is silent toleration of such violence, even though it is often illegal, the EU must act and apply all of its levers for the total elimination of such practices. Enforcement of the law and its consistent application, even if they do not totally eliminate these practices, will surely reduce them to a bare minimum.


  Zuzana Brzobohatá (S&D). (CS) Mr President, the discrimination and persecution of people with a homosexual or transsexual orientation is a sad fact in most African countries. Female homosexuality is illegal and punishable in 27 African countries. The situation is worst in Somalia, Sudan, Mauritania and Uganda, where lesbian women even face the death penalty. This is a gross breach of human rights, which stipulate equality and freedom regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

In my opinion, there is a great danger of homosexual women and the activists that fight for their rights being lynched. I utterly condemn the murder and corrective rape of women, which is, unfortunately, on the increase in many African countries. This is not just violence against lesbians, but violence against women in general. Women are generally at risk of violence and discrimination, regardless of their orientation. Even heterosexual women may become victims of stigmatisation and discrimination if their lifestyle fails to meet local standards.

Through the European Parliament and European institutions, we can continue to strengthen and motivate activists and support non-for-profit organisations fighting for human rights in Africa.


  Piotr Borys (PPE). (PL) Mr President, the level of discrimination and homophobia is rising in Africa. It is good that Parliament is voting on this issue in order to defend human rights. The fight against discrimination is particularly important, and I would like us to put pressure, with the help of the European External Action Service and other effective methods, on these countries to ease their penal provisions and, in particular, abolish the death penalty.

I believe that development aid and trade agreements should be contingent on the introduction of legislative changes by those countries. I believe that it is extremely important in relation to this resolution that we are also successful in acting to relax rules which discriminate so heavily against same-sex unions.


End of the catch-the-eye procedure


  Connie Hedegaard, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, it is sometimes said that the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity conflict with traditional values. The EU position is very clear: no, the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex persons are not a question of different cultures or beliefs, or about introducing new rights for a group of people. They are about the same human rights being applied to every person everywhere without discrimination. The EU has repeatedly called on all states to make this a reality for everyone.

Significantly, it has actually been an African country, South Africa, which has taken the lead on the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN Human Rights Council. This dispels the myth that speaking up about sexual orientation and gender identity is somehow un-African. The EU strongly supports South Africa’s leadership on this issue.

Around the world, the EU uses the full range of tools available to it to protest against human rights abuses and to offer practical support to end discrimination against LGBTI persons. In Africa, we have used both public statements and work behind the scenes to argue the case for justice and human rights for LGBTI persons.

We have done this, for example, in Uganda and Malawi: in Uganda, by opposing a proposed parliamentary bill further criminalising homosexuality, and by raising serious human rights issues; and in Malawi, by opposing over-long prison sentences imposed on a gay couple. We have also used our political dialogues in Namibia, in Nigeria and in Gambia to raise our concerns about the human rights of LGBTI persons in those countries. Moreover, the EU has been funding projects supporting the human rights of LGBTI persons, for example, in Cameroon and Zimbabwe.

To ensure that the EU continues to do the right thing, EU delegations meet regularly with LGBTI human rights defenders and keep a close watch on their situation. The human rights of LGBTI persons have also been selected as a priority for the country strategies on human rights in many countries.

As recently as 1 June this year, the Commission organised, with Parliament, a high-level conference to discuss how to promote non-discrimination and human rights so as to unlock sources of development and enable inclusive growth. At that event, Commissioner Piebalgs launched a new EUR 20 million package to help fight against discrimination of all kinds, whether based on gender or sexual orientation, religion or belief, race or ethnic origin or disability, which affects millions of people around the world. This new package will be available for NGOs and civil society groups to tackle incidences of any kind of discrimination on the ground.


  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at the end of the debate.


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