UN representative: Malawi couple sentencing is “blatantly discriminatory” and could effect fight against AIDS

May 22nd, 2010 - 1:04 am ICT by BNO News  

UNITED NATIONS (BNO NEWS) – A top United Nations (UN) representative expressed deep concern concerning the sentencing of a gay couple in Malawi, the UN said Friday.

The 14-year prison sentence that was issued to the couple is “blatantly discriminatory,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said. “I am shocked and dismayed by the sentence and reports of the treatment of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga while in detention,” voicing concern over the precedent that this could set in the region.

Laws criminalizing people based on their sexual orientation are discriminatory by nature and violate several international treaties, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which states that all people are entitled to the same rights and freedoms, Pillay mentioned, “without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status.”

“The law which enabled the conviction dates back to the colonial era and has lain dormant for a number of years – rightly so, because it is discriminatory and has the effect of criminalizing and stigmatizing people based on perceptions of their identity,” she added, as she called for the repeal of their convictions and for penal codes criminalizing homosexuality to be reformed.

Pillay also cautioned that if this were to be replicated around the world, millions of people in consensual relationships would be criminalized and their privacy trampled on.

“The trend should be towards getting rid of (these type of laws), as is the case with other forms of discrimination,” she emphasized. “Instead, some countries, including Malawi, seem to be heading in the opposite direction.”

The Malawian decision “will inevitability drive same-sex couples underground, and if this trend continues and spreads, not only will it mark a major setback to civil liberties, it could have a disastrous effect on the fight against HIV/AIDS,” Pillay added, as she dismissed the argument that non-discrimination against people on the grounds of sexual orientation is a cultural issue.

“It is a question of fundamental rights, not one of geography, history or disparate cultures,” Pillay stressed. “The protection of individuals against discrimination is pervasive in international human rights law. Why should it be suspended for this one group of human beings?”

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