Cote d’Ivoire: Gay Organisation Attacked By Rioters

Nina Benedicte Kouassi

Activists are warning of devastating consequences as a homophobic trend towards violence and criminalisation of gay people is increasing in many countries around the world.

On 27 January, nearly 200 people stormed the offices of Alternative, the Ivory Coast’s leading organisation for men who have sex with men. Claver Touré, Alternative’s executive director, said: “They broke windows with stones and stole computers. They left signs bearing anti-gay slurs all over the office. Everything they could take was taken, and the rest was broken.”

The attack brings into question the Ivory Coast’s reputation of being a safe haven for men who have sex with men.

Jean Anzoua, a communications officer who chose not to identify where he works, said: “Over time the country has built a reputation as one of the most tolerant countries in Africa, where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from all backgrounds do not have to fear the same kind of systematic violence, condemnation and censure that plagues them elsewhere on the continent.”

Since 2010, Alternative has been providing HIV prevention services to men who have sex with men. It is a population group at higher risk of HIV infection and the organisation raises awareness about safe sex practice.

“This wave of violence can seriously undermine HIV prevention efforts since men who have sex with men will not seek Alternative’s counseling and care services out of fear of being beaten or killed,” Anzoua said.

Anti-gay legislation around the world

Across Africa, 38 of the continent’s 54 countries have legislation making homosexuality illegal. In the Ivory Coast there is no explicit law prohibiting same-sex sexual activity, although public indecency with a same-sex partner is illegal and the penal code from 1981 refers to a same-sex relationship as an act of indecency.

Although homosexuality has been illegal in many African countries for years, recently the human rights abuses of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) has been getting worse.

In January, Nigeria passed a bill into law that imposes 14-year penalties on same-sex unions or gatherings by sexual minorities in public. In Uganda, the president is about to pass legislation which puts any person alleged to be homosexual at risk of life imprisonment.

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