UN Chief Calls On African Union To Hop On The Gay Tolerance Train

In what is being heralded as a bold move by the UN, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon specifically spoke out to African nations at an African Union summit in Ethopia urging the protection of gay rights. Finally the international community is saying they care about gay rights as human rights and Ban Ki-moon’s statements reflect this move towards promotion and protection of these rights. Nevertheless, some individual countries really don’t like the idea of being told they can’t continue to harass, intimidate, imprison and murder people based on their gender and sexual orientation and have responded by saying as much.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Speaking at the summit the Secretary General stated, “One form of discrimination ignored or even sanctioned by many states for too long has been discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, “pointing to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the guiding principals by which countries should abide. Amnesty International explains that while the declaration does not specifically mention gender identity rights, the principals outlined are increasingly understood as protecting LGBT individuals. In 2006 international human rights experts developed the Yogyakarta Principles as a universal guide for international human rights and of binding international legal standards specifically addressing the rights of sexual minorities.

Responding to the statement by Ban Ki-moon outgoing African Union chairman Tedoro Obiang Nguema argued replied, “Africa should not be questioned with regards to democracy, human rights, governance and transparency in public administration.” Considering homosexuality is illegal in many African nations, with South Africa ranking as the only African country where gay rights are officially recognized, the African Union is understandably defensive when reproached on this topic.

Source: ILGA December 2011

African officials who see homosexuality as foreign to their culture and refuse to recognize the rights of LGBT individuals are not alone in rejecting the evolving norms of international human rights. Notoriously Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a crowd at Columbia University that there are no gays in Iran. When you live in a culture where expressing affection to your partner can land you in jail or murdered by your fellow citizens understandably you might not advertise your sexual minority status and therefore continue to be an unrecognized part of your nation’s culture. But as the international community continues to call out nations repressing gays, lesbians and transgender individuals, citizens will feel increasingly able to speak out for their rights on the international stage. In time politicians will no longer be able to rely on such empty claims towards cultural integrity in the face of internationally recognized human rights abuses.

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Jamie J. Hagen

Jamie lives in Boston and is currently a PhD student in Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a freelance writer and also a team associate for the Boston chapter of Hollaback!.

Jamie has written 76 articles for us.


  1. As a kenyan this is such a welcome development, but unfortunately the governments will see this as western countries “bullying” their “western” ideas on them. But Africans use violence to silence the queer community then claim that there is no gay community, but we are here and international pressure is needed and appreciated.

  2. The funny thing is…I was just going to email you guys about this. I’m a little white girl (American) who lived for 18 years in rural Botswana and then in Ethiopia. Kinda hard to figure out your sexuality when it’s illegal and then come back to the US and be like, “um, what do I do now?”

    • ha! Sounds like my experience going from Malaysia to Australia. “You mean you’re not going to tell the Malaysian government that I’ve been spotted at lesbian parties or protests and that the ISLAM on my Malaysian ID has become a misnomer? SWEET.”
      (considering that there has been Malaysian-Gov-funded students that have been taken out of Aussie unis because someone outed them as trans* to the Gov…the paranoia isn’t misplaced.)

  3. Glad the UN is paying attention to the often abysmal treatment of LGBT people in Africa, though I have to agree with w/monalisa’s sentiments about how AU countries will react (if they react at all) to the statements.

  4. This comment has been redacted because it violates Autostraddle’s comment policy seeing as its only purpose was blatant hate speech.

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