Ghana activists denounce new bill that makes identifying as LGBTQ+ a crime

By Zeenat Hansrod - RFI
Europe  APEmily Leshner
MAR 1, 2024 LISTEN
© AP/Emily Leshner

Ghana has joined Uganda and Kenya in passing harsh legislation that not only penalises LGBTQ+ people, but also those who defend them, with up to 10 years' imprisonment. Activists have vowed to challenge the bill, which still needs the president's signature to become law.

Ghana's parliament unanimously approved the “Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values” bill on Wednesday. 

According to the constitution, President Nana Akufo-Addo has now seven days, up to 6 March, to sign the legislation.

“We will go to court to show how untenable this law is,” said Audrey Gadzekpo, a professor of communications at the University of Ghana and chairperson of the non-profit Ghana Center for Democratic Development.

“We are mobilising all our resources to fight it and show how it violates key fundamental human rights provisions in Ghana's 1992 constitution.”

Advocacy criminalised

First proposed in 2021, the bill sets prison terms ranging from six months to three years for people who take part in LGBTQ+ sexual acts – which are already illegal in Ghana, though they rarely lead to prosecution. 

The new legislation also criminalises people who advocate in favour of LGBTQ+ rights, who could be imprisoned for up to 10 years if their campaigns are aimed at minors.

“This bill is very open to interpretation,” says Gadzekpo. “It is not clear at all. For example, what does that mean for the media in Ghana – will they not be able to talk about LGBTQ+ issues or invite people to discuss such matters?”

She believes the legislation will interfere with the ability of civil society groups or international organisations to carry out their programmes.

“You commit an offence even by expressing sympathy towards what is criminalised under this bill,” she says.

Obligation to denounce

Clause 5 of the bill also imposes an obligation to report any person identifying as LGBTQ+ to “the police, or political leaders, opinion leaders or customary leaders in the community”.

Anyone convicted of identifying as LGBTQ+ faces up to three years in prison.

“This bill criminalises a person's identity,” says Gadzekpo.

“How do I report my child or my student?”
The United States State Department said the legislation would threaten Ghanaians' rights to freedoms of speech and assembly. It would also undermine public health and economic opportunities, it warned.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of United Nations Aids agency UNAids, said that the bill would affect everyone if it became law.

“If it becomes law, it will obstruct access to life-saving services, undercut social protection and jeopardise Ghana's development success,” she said.

“Evidence shows that punitive laws like this bill are a barrier to ending Aids, and ultimately undermine everyone's health.”

Regressive trend

The bill was promoted by a coalition comprising Christian, Muslim and Ghanaian traditional leaders who argue, on the contrary, that its measures contribute to the United Nations' sustainable development goals (SDGs).

“The bill aligns with Goal 3 of the SDGs in ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages,” wrote the sponsors of the bill.

Gadzekpo said the bill was passed by “the louder voices in parliament”.

“We noticed, while looking at the televised parliamentary session on 28 February, that it was not a full chamber,” she told RFI.

She believes that politicians misrepresented the bill by purporting it exists to protect the country's traditional and religious values.

“The majority of the people in Ghana do not support homosexuality, but they are not at all aware of the various implications of this bill,” Gadzekpo said.

Homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment in 33 of 55 African countries, according to the Institute for Security Studies.

Ghana is one of six countries – alongside Kenya, Namibia, Niger, Tanzania and Uganda – to have taken steps to restrict LGBTQ+ rights still further in the past year, the institute notes.