When Mozambique’s human rights record was reviewed before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva this week, the government’s inconsistency on homosexuality was in full view.
The Mozambique government was rightly praised for decriminalizing homosexuality last year. In Africa, such bold actions on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights are far too rare.
Lambda, Mozambique’s biggest LGBT group, celebrated the decision and hoped it would end the uncertainty about the group’s legal status. For nearly eight years, Lambda has been waiting for a response from the Ministry of Justice on its application for legal registration. The group provides counseling, health services and legal assistance to its members, but without official registration it cannot access funding and tax exemptions.
Even now, over six months after the decriminalization of homosexuality, Lambda still operates much like before: freely, but not legally. Justice Minister Abdurremane Lino de Almedia confirmed this bizarrely grey status when addressing the members of the UN Human Rights Council this week, saying they could, “freely exercise their activities on Mozambican territory,” but remaining mute on the issue of legality.
On the registration of Lambda, which members of the Human Rights Council had recommended to Mozambique in 2011, the minister said that “in view of the very sensitive nature of this matter, the government of Mozambique decided to undertake a series of consultations on the urgency and the pertinence of registering this entity.”
The failure to register Lambda in this arbitrary manner is a clear violation of their right to association, guaranteed under Mozambique’s constitution and in international law. This treatment, clearly linked to the fact that it is an LGBT group, is also discriminatory. There is no public record of any other group in Mozambique requiring consultations on “urgency” and “pertinence” before being registered as an association. Usually the registration process of an association takes no more than six weeks.
Mozambique enjoys a reputation for relatively relaxed social attitudes towards LGBT people. This is as it should be. Having taken the decision to decriminalize homosexuality the government should now end the unjustified interference with the right to freedom of association for LGBT people. It’s time for the government’s half-hearted commitment to respect LGBT rights to become complete.