Stripped of Dignity: The Struggle for LGBT Rights in Tanzania

rodger_owisoAuthor: Daniel Marari
LLM, International Human Rights Law, Lund University, Sweden

Although the Tanzanian Constitution (1977) guarantees the right to equality and prohibits discrimination based on gender and sex, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people still face deeply rooted hostility, prejudice and widespread discrimination in the Tanzanian society.  Threats of criminal penalty, social exclusion, harassment and violence make it particularly unsafe for one to come out as an LGBT person.

At present, certain homosexual acts between consenting adult males are criminalized under the Penal Code (Chapter 16 of the laws). Under section 154 of the Penal Code, committing or attempting to commit “unnatural offences” are crimes punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and twenty years’ imprisonment, respectively. “Unnatural offence” is defined as (1) sexual intercourse with any person “against the order of nature” as well as (2) consensual sexual intercourse between a man and man or woman “against the order of nature”.  The words “against the order of nature” are not statutorily defined. Also, under section 157 of the Penal Code, it is an offence punishable with a maximum of five years imprisonment for any male person, whether in public or private, to commit an act of gross indecency with another male person.  By section 3 of the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act, “gross indecency” is defined as “any sexual act that is more than ordinary but falls short of actual intercourse and may include masturbation and indecent physical contact or indecent behavior without any physical contact”.  Consent is no defense to any of these offences and no distinction regarding age is made in the text of the law. As the consequence of the existence of these laws criminalizing private consensual homosexual acts, LGBT people in Tanzania live in psychological stress and unceasing fear of prosecution and imprisonment.
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Happiness and same-sex affection

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Chinelo Okparanta is a Nigerian writer, currently living as a citizen in the United States. She understands the prejudices of her native country, especially against homosexuals. In some parts of Nigeria, a gay individual may be stoned to death under the Shari’a law. Okparanta writes, in her lesbian romance Happiness like Water, ‘yes, our love may be hidden, but it is strong. It can still bring happiness’.[1]

Why must the love between two consenting adults be hidden? Should the State have the power to decide towards whom one may show affection? These disconcerting questions may be answered in terms of global Constitutions.

The most important Brazilian decision which entailed the right to happiness was in 2011.[2] The Supreme Court had to rule on the interpretation to be given to article 1.723 of the Civil Code, which only recognizes a common-law relationship between a man and a woman as a family unit which must be public knowledge, continuous, and long-lasting, and be established for the purpose of building a family. The need for the aforementioned ruling resulted from the fact that government bodies refused to grant these rights to homo-affectionate couples. Therefore, the Court had to decide if this union also covered same-sex couples, even though the provision expressly mentions ‘man and a woman’.[3]

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