Defending Human Rights is Not A Crime – An Update from Ghana

MPact is concerned by news of continued attacks on the LGBTI community in Ghana, which culminated last Thursday with the arrest of 21 activists during a human rights training. Ghana’s Alliance for Equality and Diversity (AFED) explained in a recent press release that participants were peacefully and lawfully conducting a paralegal training aimed at ensuring the protection of sexual minorities in the country. This arrest comes on the heels of prolonged safety and security issues for LGBTI people in Ghana, including a raid on a community center back in February. The participants of this recent training who were arrested were charged with “unlawful assembly”, a crime that carries a maximum prison sentence of three (3) years.

Advocates are working in many parts of the world, including throughout the United States, to undo the harm that has been done by laws that criminalize LGBTI people as well as people living with HIV. It is an egregious violation of human rights to persecute activists and advocates who are merely gathering in order to defend these communities.

However, there are no laws in Ghana that criminalize peaceful gatherings of LGBTI or any other group of people – so why were these activists so swiftly brought before a court of law and denied bail? Even without explicit laws, governments find ways to prosecute members of marginalized and vulnerable communities.

“This arrest and detention is a clear incident of homophobia and an attempt by the Ghana Police Service to punish and abuse the rights of upright Ghanaians whose only interest is to protect the human rights of people who the police fail to protect – especially sexual minorities,” said Mr. Robert Akoto Amoafo, President of AFED.

The criminalization of same-sex sexual behavior exacerbates health disparities among marginalized communities. The UNAIDS Global AIDS Strategy passed just this year notes that “Punitive laws, the absence of enabling laws and policies, and inadequate access to justice contribute to the inequalities that undermine HIV responses.” The spread of HIV and STIs among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people is directly linked to systematic barriers that prevent queer people from accessing the care we need. We must put an end to these discriminatory and antiquated laws and affirm the inalienable human rights of LGBTI people worldwide.

We call for all LGBTI activists in Ghana and around the globe to be immediately released and have their criminal records expunged. We issue this appeal to President of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa Afuko-Addo, the Government of Ghana and Judiciary including police authorities — refrain from attacking, harassing and arbitrarily arresting human rights defenders exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and immediately release those currently in detention.

EDITORS UPDATE 6/14: After 3 weeks spent in detention without trial, the 21 human rights defenders were granted their release. Advocates in the region are now calling for the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice in Ghana to drop the charges against them. Follow @RightifyGhana on Twitter for the latest updates.

Header Photo: “Ghana’s 50th Independence Anniversary National Parade” by Oluniyi Ajao used under CCBY2.0