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Reference ID 09FREETOWN519 (original text)
SubjectSEXUAL ORIENTATION IN SIERRA LEONE: QUIETLY IN THE
OriginEmbassy Freetown
ClassificationUNCLASSIFIED
ReleasedAug 30, 2011 01:44
CreatedDec 31, 2009 13:58
VZCZCXYZ0009
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHFN #0519/01 3651358
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 311358Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 3082 UNCLAS FREETOWN 000519 
 
SIPDIS 
 
AF/EX AND AF/RSA-LOUIS MAZEL, LAURA GRIESMER, AND LEARNED 
DEES 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS:      
SUBJECT: SEXUAL ORIENTATION IN SIERRA LEONE: QUIETLY IN THE 
CLOSET 
 
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 
nationals failed. 
 
 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 
COMMENT. 
FEDZER
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