Ghana: Discrimination, Violence against LGBT People

Ghanaians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) suffer widespread discrimination and abuse both in public and in family settings, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. While some Ghanaian officials have publicly called for an end to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the government has yet to repeal a colonial-era law that criminalizes same-sex activity.

The 72-page report, ’No Choice but to Deny Who I Am’: Violence and Discrimination against LGBT People in Ghana,” shows how retention of section 104(1)(b) of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 prohibiting and punishing “unnatural carnal knowledge,” and failure to actively address violence and discrimination, relegate LGBT Ghanaians to effective second-class citizenship. Police officials and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) have taken some steps to protect LGBT people. But they are still frequent victims of physical violence and psychological abuse, extortion, and discrimination in many aspects of their daily life.

“Having a law on the books that criminalizes adult consensual same-sex conduct contributes to a climate in which LGBT people are frequently victims of violence and discrimination,” said Wendy Isaack, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Homophobic statements by local and national government officials, traditional elders, and senior religious leaders foment discrimination and in some cases, incite violence.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 114 LGBT people in Accra, Tamale, Kumasi, and Cape Coast in December 2016 and February 2017. Human Rights Watch also interviewed three representatives of human rights organizations based in Ghana, a CHRAJ complaints officer, the assistant police commissioner, and three diplomats in Accra.

Many of those interviewed said that the law contributes to a climate in which violence and discrimination against LGBT people is common. The provision is rarely, if ever, used to prosecute people, and unlike several of its neighbors, Ghana has not taken steps in recent years to stiffen penalties against consensual same-sex conduct or to expressly criminalize sexual relations between women.

“The government should recognize that we are human beings, with dignity, not treat us as outcasts in our own society,” said a 40-year old lesbian from Cape Coast. “We want to be free, so we can stand tall in public and not deal with obstacles and harassment daily – this will make it easier for us to get an education, learn a trade, get jobs and be useful and productive Ghanaians.”

The Ghana Police Service has at times responded appropriately to abuses against LGBT people, for example in cases of false accusation and blackmail of gay men in Tamale. CHRAJ has an online system to register allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and has processed 36 cases.

But in February 2017, Mike Ocquaye, the parliament speaker, referred to homosexuality as an “abomination” and called for stricter laws against same-sex conduct. In July, during a public discussion about prospects for abolishing the death penalty, he equated homosexuality with bestiality. His comments have heightened tensions for LGBT people and contributed to an increase in calls by some opinion leaders, including other members of parliament, to further criminalize same-sex activity. Read more via Human Rights Watch

Download the full report in English