Increasing terrorism (in Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso) and responses to terrorism (repression and tight security, and the growth of exclusive and intolerant religious fundamentalism in most Sahelian countries); unresolved conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and elsewhere; new as well as older dynamics at work in the West Africa region – all these bring grave human rights violations in their wake, and threaten more. Governments invoke public security or supposedly traditional values, but some are hardly able to maintain the rule of law, if at all.
Some social groups are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations:
LGBT people are the (legal) victims of growing moral conservatism, and scapegoats for political or socio-economic crises. They have no voice because media reflect dominant prejudices, in defiance of their professional duty.
Young people are the majority, more than 60% of the population, yet they are marginalised. The consolidation of nepotism, in state institutions but also in many civil society organisations, deprives young people of any power to influence decisions, or even to express themselves – including through the media.
Ethnic and religious minorities are the first victims of conflicts, unless they are granted justice through specific ‘transitional justice’ processes. At best they often suffer rampant discrimination, at worst they are victims of popular revenge in reaction to political conflict or social tensions (for instance, in Guinea, Togo and Niger).
Local communities lose their rights over land, as vast tracts of West Africa are acquired – legally – by globalised businesses.
PIWA is committed to promoting universal and indivisible human rights, and ensuring they are enjoyed by minorities.
PIWA’s activities towards this goal include:
Homosexuality is still taboo in several West African countries, notably Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Senegal, and its very existence may be denied. Public opinion considers homosexuality to be a voluntary choice reflecting sexual perversion motivated by economic calculations. Homophobia is increasing and widely shared, causing many instances of violence against LGBTI people – such as arbitrary arrest, exclusion from education, denial of health care, expulsion from homes and unfair dismissal. National institutions and civil society organisations for the defence, promotion and protection of human rights are silent in the face of these abuses, thus legitimising the excesses suffered by the LGBTI community.
In Cote d’Ivoire’s Penal Code the punishment of homosexuality is implicit, but in Cameroon and Senegal homosexuality is an offence punishable by up to five years in prison. In Cameroon, 35 people were arrested for homosexuality in 2017. In 2016, a 24-year-old man was threatened with a five-year jail term for exchanging messages with another young man on his mobile phone. In Senegal, 15 people were tried and convicted for homosexuality. In 2015 alone, 27 people were victims of physical or verbal violence, and 14 others were refused care in centres for people living with HIV. In Cote d’Ivoire, where the climate seemed more benign, the first conviction for homosexuality came in November 2016, when the lower court of Sassandra pronounced sentence on two young people.
The media amplify this rising tide of homophobia. Instead of explaining or clarifying the subject, they present it in emotional terms. Journalists use words and expressions that reflect the condemnations, exclusion, even the calls to violence and social eradication, that fan popular sentiment. It is a kind of trial of LGBTI people, in which neither they nor those who defend them can speak. They do not have the communication skills or tools needed to create and disseminate relevant and good quality multimedia outputs, to effectively respond to the abuses transmitted by the media.
This is why PIWA has collaborated with various local partners engaged in defending LGBTI rights, to develop a project to counter the discourse of hate and the prejudices which nurture homophobia. The aim is to foster tolerance of homosexuals and respect for their rights as human beings.
The project Voices and means to fight homophobia is funded by the European Union for three years, 2015-17. It is carried out in Senegal, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire, in partnership with local human rights defence organisations such as the Network of media, arts and sports professionals fighting against AIDS and other pandemics, Côte d’Ivoire (REPMASCI); the Association for the defence of homosexuals’ rights, Cameroon (ADEFHO); Africa Consultants International (ACI-Boabab); Cote d’Ivoire Alternatives and Cameroon Alternatives. The aim is to strengthen the relevance, effectiveness and influence of communication by defenders of homosexuals’ rights, to promote these rights and fight prejudices against them.