Not So Nobel: Peace Prize-Winning President of Liberia Supports Homophobia

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Tuesday March 20, 2012

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia's president and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said that she supports a law that can put homosexuals in prison for a year, the U.K. newspaper the Guardian reported.

"We like ourselves just the way we are. We've got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve," she told the newspaper.

Liberia is located in West Africa and bordered by Sierra Leone and Guinea.

She made her initial remarks during a joint interview with former U.K. prime minster Tony Blair, who was noticeably uncomfortable. Blair has supported LGBT issues while in office as he promoted laws that recognized civil partnerships.

When Blair was asked if "good governance and human rights went hand in hand." Blair said, "I'm not giving you an answer on it. One of the advantages of doing what I do now is I can choose the issues I get into and the issues I don't. For us, the priorities are around power, roads, jobs delivery."

Sirleaf, 73, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work in campaigning for women's rights. In 2006, she became Africa's first female president and was reelected last year.

"If she tried to decriminalise the [current anti-gay] law it would be political suicide," said Tiawan S Gongloe, the country's former solicitor general.

In addition to the current law, which says "voluntary sodomy" is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to one year in prison, there are two proposed legislations that could give gay Liberians an even harsher punishment.

One of the anti-gay laws, which was created by the ex-wife of the former president Charles Taylor, could make same-sex marriage a crime and could sentence gay Liberians up to 10 years in jail.

"[Homosexuality] is a criminal offence. It is un-African," Jewel Howard Taylor told the Guardian. "It is a problem in our society. We consider deviant sexual behaviour criminal behaviour. We are just trying to strengthen our local laws. This is not an attempt to bash homosexuals."

Rep. Clarence Massaquoi introduced the other bill and says that "same-sex sexual practices" are punishable up to five years in prison, the Associated Press reported.

Liberia is one of the many countries in Africa that strongly persecutes its LGBT community. In February, Uganda's parliament reintroduced a bill that would give the death penalty to gays who are caught having consensual sex. The country's government, however, does not support the proposed bill. Last week a Ugandan gay rights group sued American anti-gay activist Scott Lively for promoting the law.

"That's about as ridiculous as it gets. I've never done anything in Uganda except preach the Gospel and speak my opinion about the homosexual issue. There's actually no grounds for litigation on this," Lively said.

Cameroon, a country in west Central Africa that is bordered by Nigeria and Chad, has also received criticism for its treatment of gays. A 2010 report from the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHR) explained the dangers the country's LGBT community face.

"Beyond arrest, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Cameroonians are at higher risk for other problems," IGLHRC's site said. "Police and prison officers routinely abuse detainees they suspect of same-sex sexual relationships. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people may be more vulnerable to violent attacks inside and outside the home, as they often avoid reporting a crime for fear of being arrested, in turn, for homosexuality. Lesbian women can lose custody of their children and be ostracized by their families."