Violence against Compatriot
Nigeria is currently often in the news because of the attacks of Boko Haram, a terrorist organisation based in Nigeria that targets and harms women, children and non-Muslims.
What is often forgotten, however, is that the Nigerian government targets and harms another vulnerable part of the Nigerian society: members of the LGBTIQA community.
Nigeria’s take on Homosexuality
Homosexual acts have been illegal in Nigeria, and many African nations, since colonial times. However, a new law, signed into effect by President Goodluck Johnathan on 7 January 2014, takes a further step and imposes severe criminal punishment on anyone found guilty of engaging in homosexual activities, or organisations and clubs.
As the Washington Post reports, this was likely an attempt to win over the conservative Muslim population in the north of Nigeria, in a bid to secure success in the elections. We were fortunate enough to interview John*, one of the AFFMA’s clients, a homosexual man from Nigeria seeking asylum in Australia.
Growing up, John always knew he was different. In high school, he was often bullied for not engaging in traditionally masculine sports such as soccer, and for eagerly answering questions in class, which was seen as a very feminine thing to do. He realised he was gay early in his teens, and very quickly realised the enormous stigma attached to it.
Though homosexuality was not a criminal offence in Nigeria when John was at school, Nigeria remained a highly conservative country. This meant that homosexuality was a serious taboo and carried significant dangers.
In his final year at a private university in Nigeria’s south, John was caught kissing another man by one of his roommates. Given that this was an act deemed worthy of expulsion by the university, John’s roommate blackmailed him, demanding the equivalent of a year’s tuition at the university (roughly $1300 Australian dollars). For several days John was stressed and anxious, his blackmailer constantly lurking, demanding John pay for everything.
Eventually, John managed to contact an older, wealthy friend who was willing to help out. John eventually faced the school’s panel, but with the help of his friend he was able to negotiate a suspension and a fine that was approximately the same amount as the money demanded.
He completed his degree in biochemistry before serving in the National Service in the country’s capital, Abuja. Later he worked with the International Centre for Advocacy on Rights to Health (ICARH), a group that provides important services to people with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.
As part of his work with ICARH, John presented evidence to the government arguing against the extremely oppressive bill to criminalise homosexual acts.
However, John’s life and freedom were soon in danger.
In February 2014 after leaving a club, John and four male friends headed back to his house to rest for the night. At three o’clock in the morning, they were woken to banging at the door and demands that they come outside.Waiting for them was a vigilante mob that accused John of being gay, claiming they had been watching him. John and his friends were viciously assaulted by the mob.
When they ran to the police, the police joined in on the beating and arrested John and his friends. Luckily for John, his manager at ICARH was able to bail him out. As he did not feel safe returning to his house, John was forced to live in his office for about two weeks, though he was later offered a place to stay by his manager’s family.
John attended the recent international conference on AIDS in Melbourne in June 2014, representing ICARH. Over there, many people he met advised him to seek asylum in Australia.
John is currently waiting for his application to be processed, and is receiving assistance from AFFMA. AFFMA’s CEO Mr. Joël Gédéon, who has never had a Protection application rejected in the past five years, is hopeful for a positive outcome.
John’s family knows he is looking to resettle in Australia, but because they don’t know he is gay, they don’t know why he is here. He misses his mother especially, but knows if he returns to Nigeria, he could put himself and his family and friends in serious danger.
John’s story is not a rarity in Nigeria. Described by the International Business Times as one of the most homophobic nations in the world, there are regular reports of beatings and stoning’s for homosexuals, or those perceived as homosexual. This is particularly so in more rural areas and in the north of Nigeria, where some of the Muslim majority states practice Sharia law.
For example, in 2007, the Guardian reported of the arrest of 18 men in the northern state of Bauchi, a Muslim-majority state that has adopted Sharia law. In that case, the judge decided not to charge the men with sodomy, outlawed by the Penal Code in Nigeria, but still found them guilty of vagrancy and cross-dressing, which carry penalties of up to a year in prison and 30 lashes.
Australia’s approach for homosexuals seeking asylum
In Europe and Australia, there is a significant precedent for granting LGBTIQA people asylum out of fear of persecution.
In Europe, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in 2013 that persecution of homosexuals was a valid reason to claim asylum.
Importantly, As Deutsche Welle reports, the ECJ held that it was unreasonable to expect a homosexual person to simply hide their sexuality to avoid persecution. In a later case, as the BBC reported, it was held that asking applicants to perform tests to prove that they are homosexual was a violation of human rights and dignity.
In Australia, there is a similar approach. In Appellant S395/2 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in 2003, the High Court of Australia overturned the decision of the Federal Court of Australia to uphold a finding by the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) that a gay Bangladeshi couple faced no chance of persecution because they behaved discretely.
As such, precedent was established to allow LGBTs fleeing persecution to seek asylum in Australia.
Furthermore, the United Nations Convention on Refugees does not allow discrimination based on sexuality against refugees. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees, Australia is obligated to provide protection to people like John who seek protection from persecution for being homosexual.
This reasoning was also applied in Appellant S395/2 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, and as that was a case in the High Court of Australia, it is binding upon all jurisdictions.
It is not possible to deny your sexuality, and it is not permissible to deny someone the right to live safely and be free of persecution.
Nigeria’s laws banning homosexuality oppress people who cannot and should not have to conceal their sexuality and live in fear of mob violence.
It is important that Australia continues to be welcoming and supportive to those seeking asylum in our borders, and that as a nation we do not become complicit in the state-mandated abuse and oppression of homosexual people elsewhere in the world.
* Name withheld to protect client’s identity