Ghana: UN and human rights groups condemn passage of ‘profoundly disturbing’ anti-LGBTQ+ bill

The United Nations (UN) and human rights groups have condemned the passage of a “profoundly disturbing” bill that criminalises LGBTQ+ people in Ghana.

The bill, which was passed unanimously by Ghana’s parliament on Wednesday (28 February), not only criminalises people who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community but also attacks allies who support queer rights. Anyone convicted could be punished with imprisonment ranging from a few months to three years. 

Individuals advocating for LGBTQ+ rights could be subject to jail terms of three to five years. 

The bills still needs to be signed by president Nana Akufo-Addo before it becomes law.

Many Ghanaian and international advocacy organisations condemned the bill, calling on Akufo-Addo to veto it, and UN high commissioner for human rights Volker Türk described it as profoundly disturbing.

“The bill broadens the scope of criminal sanctions against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual and queer people – simply for being who they are – and threatens criminal penalties against perceived allies of LGBTQ+ people,” said Türk. “I call for the bill not to become law. 

“I urge the Ghanaian government to take steps to ensure everyone can live free from violence, stigma and discrimination, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Consensual same-sex conduct should never be criminalised.”

Known as the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values bill, it was first introduced in parliament in 2021, following a crackdown against the LGBTQ+ community

Consensual same-sex sexual activity remains illegal in the West African nation under a law dating back to British colonial rule and is punishable by up to three years in prison. 

Alex Kofi Donkor, Director of the LGBTQ+ Rights Ghana, poses for a photograph in a safe house, on November 8, 2021. (NIPAH DENNIS/AFP via Getty)

In addition, LGBTQ+ Ghanaians have faced increased levels of discrimination, abuse and violence in recent years.

The legislation would have a devastating impact because it not only “criminalises one’s identity” but also “deprives various groups”, LGBTQ+ Rights Ghana said in a social media post.

“It represents a sorrowful and shameful day for Ghana, a country that has long been regarded as a beacon of hope for Africa due to its exemplary democratic achievements,” the group said. “To all LGBTQIA+ Ghanaians, we have overcome many challenges before and this is just another storm we must weather. 

“In times like these, we must remain resilient, maintain faith and remember that there is always hope, even in the darkest of times.” 

PRESS STATEMENT ON PASSAGE OF ANTI-LGBT+ BILL.@LGBTRightsGhana pic.twitter.com/SyavCmk2lP

— LGBT+ Rights Ghana (@LGBTRightsGhana) February 28, 2024

Rightify Ghana, a leading human rights organisation, also criticised the “draconian” bill in a statement on X/Twitter. The legislation “represents a blatant disregard for the principles of democracy and human rights enshrined in the constitution of Ghana,” the group claimed. 

“It infringes on fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression, the right to privacy, freedom of association [and] freedom of assembly. Moreover, the bill threatens to exacerbate existing inequalities by further marginalising LGBTQ+ individuals and restricting their access to essential services such as education, healthcare, housing and employment.”

American LGBTQ+ advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said it was “outraged” to hear about the passage of the “cruel bill that violates the fundamental rights” or queer people and their allies. 

“Every single lawmaker who voted to pass this bill is wrongly using their power to strip away the basic humanity of the people they are supposed to represent,” said David Stacy, HRC’s vice-president of government affairs.

Urging the “international community to stand up for the rights of all LGBTQI+ people”, he vowed that the HRC would support its Ghanaian partners “during this harrowing time”.

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