DE RUEHFN #0519/01 3651358
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 311358Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 3082 UNCLAS FREETOWN 000519
AF/EX AND AF/RSA-LOUIS MAZEL, LAURA GRIESMER, AND LEARNED
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: SEXUAL ORIENTATION IN SIERRA LEONE: QUIETLY IN THE
REF: STATE 130765
1. Summary: Sierra Leone has an archaic and seldom (if
ever) enforced law against homosexual behavior on the books,
but societal prejudices, rather than legal consequences, keep
homosexual orientation hidden. There are no current
initiatives to revise, eliminate, or enforce current
legislation, and post was unable to contact any groups that
advocated for or against gay rights. Web sites posted by
groups in the past appeared inactive, and it is unclear if a
lesbian activist killed several years ago was specifically
targeted for her political activities, or simply one more
victim of crime. Human rights programs similar to those that
advanced women's rights and acceptance for HIV sufferers
might help sensitize the population to support gay rights,
but might also backfire by energizing groups interested in
copying anti-gay rights movement in Uganda and elsewhere.
Sexual orientation remains hidden, and it is unlikely that
gay Sierra Leoneans will coming out in the open in the near
term. End Summary.
The "Abominable Crime of Buggery"
2. Sierra Leone adopted at independence a number of British
laws, including the 1861 Offences against Persons Act, which,
under "unnatural offences" includes article 61 on "Sodomy and
bestiality: Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable
crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any
animal, shall be liable..... to be kept in penal servitude
for life." (Note: the ellipsis between liable... to be" are
part of the citation, noting that at some point a portion of
the original text was excised from the law). While article
61 of the law was eliminated from the British code, it is
still on the books in Sierra Leone, although local lawyers
contacted by Post could not recall a case in which the law
had been applied.
3. There has been no attempt to deal specifically with this
clause in parliament, but there has been some discussion
about the need to revise the entire 1861 law to reflect
modern sensibilities; nonetheless, there are no revisions
pending or imminently anticipated.
What happens in the closet....
4. It appears that Sierra Leone does not have any active gay
rights movement. Many Sierra Leoneans believe that
homosexuality is practiced exclusively by, or through
inducements from, foreigners -- it is assumed that
homosexuals are either copying Western practices, or
motivated by economics. A number of Sierra Leoneans, even
those with considerable exposure to Western culture, said
that homosexuality does not exist locally, and any cases were
due directly to Western influence. The few Sierra Leoneans
who admitted knowing someone they believed to be homosexual
said that in no case would anyone openly admit it, and if
they did, they would be shunned by their families and friends
and possibly threatened by community members. Unfortunately,
Sierra Leoneans contacted on this issue were all
heterosexual, as attempts by post to locate any openly gay
5. While societal stigmas keep homosexuality in the closet,
there are no "witch hunts" demanding tougher legislation or
enforcement of the 1861 law, either, and this in a country
where communities do have actual witch hunts. Without active
discrimination, or a critical mass of activists, individuals
are unlikely assume the immediate negative consequences of
going public to fight for greater acceptance down the road.
In the absence of such activism, however, homosexuality is
likely to continue to be viewed by Sierra Leoneans as it is
now -- an abomination in the same category as pedophilia,
bestiality, and witchcraft.
No torches and pitchforks.. yet
6. Some Sierra Leoneans worry that the national
characteristic to "copy" other African states could lead to a
replication of Ugandan events here, and worry that a small
spark could set off a riot. This is not an expression of
anti-homosexual sentiment, necessarily (although that
sentiment exists, particularly in the countryside), but an
expression of how a few misinformed individuals can turn out
an angry mob to attack an accused thief, a witch, or anyone
perceived to be an outsider. The lesbian activist gang-raped
in her home may have been targeted for her political
activities, but some believe she surprised burglars that had
targeted her home for economic reasons. This explanation is
possible, but it is noteworthy that no one has stepped in to
take her place.
7. One Sierra Leonean commented that other movements -- some
successful, some not -- have begun only when foreign donors
funded projects to support them. Programs pushing for
women's rights have yielded projects throughout the country,
and legislation has changed dramatically to improve the
status of women. It was recalled that before the
international community began funding HIV/AIDS programs,
stigma was a problem, but that it is now rarely seen.
Contrarily, attempts to reduce Female Genital Mutilation have
met with harsh criticism from local activists seeking to
protect "traditional practices." Sierra Leoneans are divided
on the likely outcome of similar Western-funded programs on
gay rights, with some thinking it would give comfort and
support sufficient to mobilize local activism, and others
feeling it would create an anti-gay backlash. A
Western-funded program might be viewed as an attempt to
promote Western sexual practices, making it less effective,
but it also might galvanize what few homosexuals in Sierra
Leone might be willing to come out.
8. COMMENT: Homosexual orientation is not a front-burner
issue in Sierra Leone, and is unlikely to become one soon.
However debate could be triggered by further publicity on
anti-gay activities in Uganda. More likely to provoke change
is the inevitable debate on the broader need to revise the
current 1861 laws into a more modern piece of legislation.
Such a step will provide the international community the
opportunity to encourage Sierra Leone to adopt laws that
prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. END
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