Luanda: Angola’s parliament approved a new penal code Wednesday that drops provisions widely interpreted to criminalize homosexuality.
The new penal code is Angola’s first since it gained its independence from Portugal in 1975. The prior code contained many holdover provisions from the colonial era, including a ban of “vices against nature,” which was understood to criminalize same-sex relationships symbolically, if not in practice. Human Rights Watch noted that “[w]hile there have been no known prosecutions under the law, provisions like this one curtail the rights and freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, subjecting their intimate lives to unwarranted scrutiny.”
The new code also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation; violators who refuse to employ or provide services to people based on their sexual orientation could face a prison term of up to two years.
The UN praised the new code (see below) and Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, issued a statement calling on all countries who still criminalize homosexuality to follow Angola’s example and move towards decriminalization.
Angola follows several other African countries who have decriminalized homosexuality in recent years, including fellow former Portuguese colonies Mozambique (in 2015), São Tomé and Príncipe (in 2012), and Cape Verde (in 2004), as well as Seychelles (in 2016). Same-sex activity and relationships remain illegal in some of Africa’s most populous countries including Sudan, Uganda, and Nigeria.
UN welcomes Angola’s repeal of anti-gay law
Parliamentarians in the southern African nation voted on Wednesday, according to news reports, to remove the so-called “vices against nature” provision, in effect, decriminalizing all same-sex conduct, and established a new penal code which will prohibit discrimination.
Speaking in Geneva on Friday, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) welcomed the development. Rupert Colville said that the Government has also prohibited discrimination against people based on sexual orientation.
Also welcoming the decision, a UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said that such legislation “was one of the root causes behind grave and pervasive human rights violations against gay, lesbian, trans and bisexual people”.
In his statement, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, urged other States to follow Angola’s move, adding that “all other countries that still criminalize homosexuality, must observe these processes of decriminalization as motivation to examine their own legal frameworks, and to bring themselves to full compliance with this human rights imperative”.
Of the 193 countries recognized by the United Nations, 68 still criminalize same-sex conduct.
Mr Madrigal-Borloz highlighted that the mere existence of provisions, even when not used to actively prosecute cases, “creates an environment conducive to violence and discrimination”.
“In Angola lesbians, gays, and bisexual and trans persons have denounced significant barriers in access to health, employment, education and other essential processes, all due to the perception that their very identities are criminal in nature”, he concluded.
Commenting on the ban, the Human Rights Watch NGO, noted that Angola’s only gay rights lobbying organization, Iris Angola, was granted legal status last year after four years of operation. The rights group said that they changes marked the latest reform ushered in by the administration of President João Lourenço, a former defense minister who took office in 2017.
The group called the decision an “historic moment” allowing the organization to defend the rights of sexual minorities in Angola. Mozambique, another former Portuguese colony, decriminalized homosexuality in 2015, when it too adopted a new penal code.