Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

New Bill puts human rights defenders of sexual rights at risk

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 7 April 2006
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, New Bill puts human rights defenders of sexual rights at risk, 7 April 2006, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders express its deep concern over a Bill that would introduce criminal penalties for public advocacy or associations supporting the rights of lesbian and gay people, as well as for relationships and marriage ceremonies between persons of the same sex. As a consequence, human rights defenders and organisations defending those rights will be at a greater risk of criminalisation.

Indeed, the Observatory has been informed by several organisations, including the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), that on January 19, 2006, Mr. Bayo Ojo, Minister of Justice, presented to the Federal Executive Council a "Bill for an Act to Make Provisions for the Prohibition of Relationship Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by Them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith". While the Council reportedly approved the Bill, it has not yet been submitted to the National Assembly.

For example, in its article 7 (1), the Bill prohibits the "registration of gay clubs, societies and organisations by whatever name they are called [...] by government agencies".

Furthermore, the Bill provides in its article 7(3) five years imprisonment for "any person involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organisations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private". It also provides the same sentence to anyone who "goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex, and "performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage" (article 8).

The Observatory recalls that chapter 42, section 214 of Nigeria's Criminal code already penalises consensual homosexual conduct between adults with fourteen years imprisonment.

The bill, if adopted, would blatantly violate the principle of non-discrimination, enshrined in all main international human rights instruments, and a corner stone of human rights law. It would also clearly restrict freedoms of expression and association of human rights defenders and members of civil society, when advocating the rights of gays and lesbians. This Bill would also potentially criminalise civil society groups engaged in fighting against HIV/AIDS through prevention programme.

The Observatory recalls that the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states, in its article 5, that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: a) to meet or assemble peacefully; b) to form, join and participate in non-governmental organisations, associations or groups", and in its article 7 that "Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance". The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders herself has specifically called attention to the "greater risks ... faced by defenders of the rights of certain groups as their work challenges social structures, traditional practices and interpretations of religious precepts that may have been used over long periods of time to condone and justify violation of the human rights of members of such groups. Of special importance will be ... human rights groups and those who are active on issues of sexuality, especially sexual orientation" (See Report of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2001/94 (2001), at 89g).

Moreover, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Nigeria acceded without reservations in 1993, protects the rights to freedom of expression (article 19), freedom of conscience (article 18), freedom of assembly (article 21) and freedom of association (article 22). It also affirms the equality of all people before the law and the right to freedom from discrimination in articles 2 and 26.

As a consequence, the Observatory urges the Nigerian authorities to:

  • withdraw the "Bill for an Act to Make Provisions for the Prohibition of Relationship Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by Them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith", in order to conform with international and regional law;
  • conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular with article 1, which states that "everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels", above-mentioned articles 5 and 7, and article 12.2, which states that "The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration";
  • more generally, conform with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the regional and international instruments relative to human rights binding Nigeria.

Moreover, the Observatory also calls upon the international community, in particular the United Nations human rights mechanisms and the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, to urge Nigeria to conform, in all circumstances, with its international human rights commitments.

Search Refworld