Mixed in with otherwise positive reforms, Burundi’s parliament unanimously voted to outlaw homosexuality this week. Box Turtle Bulletin has the report:
The central African nation of Burundi adopted a new set of laws abolishing the death penalty for the first time in the troubled nation’s history. The sweeping law was seen as an important reform. It incorporated parts of international law on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It includes important safeguards against torture as well as sexual violence against women and children. It also criminalizes homosexuality. The law was overwhelmingly passed by Burundi’s Parliament, 90-0 with ten abstentions. It still needs to be ratified by the Senate and signed by President Pierre Nkurunziza, which is seen as a mere formality. Nkurunziza is described as an ex-Hutu rebel leader and born-again Christian, whose presidency has been marred by accusations of assassinations and torture. Burundi is still emerging from a twelve-year civil war that engulfed neighboring Rwanda.
One of the smallest countries in the world at only 11,000 square miles (about the size of Belgium), Burundi is also among the ten poorest. Due to the prevalence of AIDS, life expectancy for Burundi citizens is only 40 years. Reaction to the vote from African LGBT activists was immediate:
The Association for the Respect of Homosexuals’ Rights (ARDHO) protested vigorously. “We at ARDHO are outraged by this decision to criminalise homosexuality. We don’t understand how educated people can adopt such a law because homosexuality is neither a disease nor a deviance,” an official told AFP. He was speaking on condition he not be named, citing “security reasons”, ahead of a crisis meeting with the association’s 35 members in Bujumbura. “How are we going to be able to continue the struggle against AIDS in our community if every homosexual has to go underground,” he asked.