JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Antiquated laws against same-sex sexual activity as well as deeply ingrained social stigma result in the
all-too-frequent targeting of LGBT people in Africa for blackmail and extortion.
That was the conclusion of a major report released today by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
The report, “Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa,” illustrates how LGBT Africans are made doubly vulnerable by the criminalization of homosexuality and the often-violent stigmatization they face if their sexuality is revealed.
Based on research from 2007 to the present, the volume features articles and research by leading African activists and academics on the prevalence, severity and impact of these human rights violations on LGBT people in, Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
“The tragic reality is that blackmail and extortion are part of the daily lives of many LGBT Africans who are isolated and made vulnerable by homophobic laws and social stigma,” said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s executive director. “The responsibility clearly lies with governments to address these crimes and the underlying social and legal vulnerability of LGBT people.”
The report’s authors vividly depict the isolation, humiliation and manipulation to which LGBT people are subjected by blackmailers and
extortionists and describe the threats of exposure, theft, assault, and rape, that can damage and even destroy the lives of victims.
Vulnerability to these crimes is faced on a regular basis and families and communities are not safe havens.
For example, according to research conducted in Cameroon and featured in the report, “the bulk of blackmail and extortion attempts were committed by other members of the community – 33.9% by neighbors, 11.8% by family members, 11.5% by classmates, and 14.1% by homosexual friends. Police were often complicit in this – either by ignoring or dismissing it or, in 11.5% of cases, directly perpetrating it.”
Nowhere to Turn explores the role the State plays in these crimes by ignoring blackmail and extortion carried out by police and other officials by failing to prosecute blackmailers, and by charging LGBT victims under sodomy laws when they do find the courage to report blackmail to the authorities.
IGLHRC urges States to take concrete steps to reduce the incidence of these crimes by decriminalizing same-sex sexual activity, educating officials and communities about blackmail laws, and ensuring that all people are able to access judicial mechanisms without prejudice.
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