(New York) - The government of Sierra Leone should bring to justice those responsible for the brutal murder of FannyAnn Eddy, founder of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association and a lesbian rights activist known across Africa.
Eddy, 30, was found dead on the morning of September 29. While she was working alone in the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association's offices the previous night, her assailant or assailants apparently broke in to the premises. She was raped repeatedly, stabbed and her neck was broken.
"FannyAnn Eddy was a person of extraordinary bravery and integrity, who literally put her life on the line for human rights," said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Project at Human Rights Watch. "Again and again, within her country's borders and beyond, she drew attention to the harassment, discrimination and violence lesbian and gay people face in Sierra Leone. Now, she has been murdered in the offices of the organization she founded, and there is grave concern that she herself has become a victim of hatred."
Eddy had founded the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association in 2002. The group provided social and psychological support to a fearful and underground community. Eddy herself, however, was a visible and courageous figure, lobbying government ministers to address the health and human rights needs of men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women.
In April, Eddy was part of a delegation of sexual-rights activists whom Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) helped attend the annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Eddy met with her own government's delegation, and testified to the Commission about lesbian and gay rights in what she called "my beloved Sierra Leone."
"We face constant harassment and violence from neighbors and others," she told the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. "Their homophobic attacks go unpunished by authorities, further encouraging their discriminatory and violent treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."
Eddy and her organization documented harassment, beatings and arbitrary arrests of lesbian, gay and transgender people in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is emerging from a devastating 11-year civil war that ended in 2002. The civil war was characterized by egregious human rights abuses by all sides but especially by rebel forces, including widespread rape, murder, torture and limb amputation. Despite the disarmament of some 47,000 combatants and the successful completion of presidential and parliamentary elections in May 2002, the deep rooted issues that gave rise to the conflict - endemic corruption, weak rule of law, crushing poverty and the inequitable distribution of the country's vast natural resources - remain largely unaddressed by the government.
While there were serious problems with the Sierra Leone Police and judicial system before the conflict, the civil war clearly exacerbated them. The international community, particularly the United Kingdom, has invested heavily in efforts to train the police and rehabilitate the judicial system, however numerous problems remain. While there have been many improvements in the behavior of the police, reports of extortion, bribe-taking and unprofessional conduct remain common. There are insufficient numbers of judges, magistrates, prosecutors and courtrooms, which has led to huge backlogs within the court system. Extended and unlawful detention of hundreds of criminal suspects - many without due process guarantees as stipulated in the constitution - is also a key problem.
"The authorities in Sierra Leone must investigate this crime fairly and fully," said Long. "They must send a message to a frightened lesbian and gay community that violence against them will not go unpunished."
Eddy leaves a 10-year-old son.
Distinguished members of the Commission,
My name is FannyAnn Eddy and I am representing MADRE. I am also a member of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association.
I would like to use this opportunity to bring to your attention the dangers vulnerable groups and individuals face not only in my beloved country, Sierra Leone, but throughout Africa.
My focus of interest is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, which most African leaders do not like to address. In fact, many African leaders do not want to even acknowledge that we exist. Their denial has many disastrous results for our community.
We do exist. But because of the denial of our existence, we live in constant fear: fear of the police and officials with the power to arrest and detain us simply because of our sexual orientation. For instance, recently a young gay man was arrested in Freetown for being dressed as a woman. He was held in
detention for a full week without any charge being brought. Though I personally was able to argue with the authorities to release him, most people like him would have been held indefinitely because there are very few of us who are able to speak up.
We live in fear that our families will disown us, as it is not unusual for lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender people to be forced out of their family homes when their identity becomes known. Many people who are forced from their homes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are young with nowhere else to go, and thus become homeless, have no food, and resort to sex work in order to survive.
We live in fear within our communities, where we face constant harassment and violence from neighbors and others. Their homophobic attacks go unpunished by authorities, further encouraging their discriminatory and violent treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
When African leaders use culture, tradition, religion and societal norms to deny our existence they send a message that tolerates discrimination, violence and overall indignity.
This denial has especially disastrous results in the context of HIV/AIDS. According to a recent research study published in December 2003 by the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association in collaboration with Health Way Sierra Leone, 90% of men who have sex with men also have sex with women, either their wives or girlfriends. Of that group, 85% said that they do not use condoms. Clearly the message of sexual education and transmission of HIV is not delivered to these men in Sierra Leone. It is clear that many men get married not because that is what their inner being desires, but because that is what society demands-because they live in a society which forces them to fear for their freedom or their lives because of their sexual orientation. The silence surrounding them-the refusal to acknowledge their existence or address their health care needs-endangers not only them but their wives and girlfriends.
Yet, despite all of the difficulties we face, I have faith that the acknowledgement by the Commission of the inherent dignity and respect due to lesbian, gay people can lead to greater respect for our human rights. As evidenced by the liberation struggle in South Africa, where the constitution bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, respect for human rights can transform society. It can lead people to understand that in the end, we are all human and all entitled to respect and dignity.
Silence creates vulnerability. You, members of the Commission on Human Rights, can break the silence. You can acknowledge that we exist, throughout Africa and on every continent, and that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are committed every day. You can help us combat those violations and achieve our full rights and freedoms, in every society, including my beloved Sierra Leone.