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Ghana’s legal chief signals support for anti-LGBTIQ bill in blow for equality

Godfred Yeboah Dame criticised some clauses as unconstitutional, but backed the proposed law in principle

Khatondi Soita Wepukhulu
18 November 2022, 4.07pm

A placard is placed outside the Ghanaian High Commission during a protest against the anti-gay law being debated in the African country| Eleventh Hour Photography/Alamy

Ghana’s attorney general and justice minister Godfred Yeboah Dame has criticised parts of the country’s anti-LGBTIQ bill as ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unconstitutional’.

But Dame’s legal opinion on the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, made public yesterday, has come under fire from LGBTIQ rights campaigners as he appears to largely agree with the objectives of the bill, and even suggests a broader definition of ‘unnatural carnal knowledge’ to include sexual relations between women, which is not criminalised by current Ghana law.

Activists fear it could signal that Ghana’s ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) will back the bill when it goes to a vote. The proposed law originated with eight opposition backbenchers, and NPP chair Freddie Blay has even previously spoken against it, saying: “Leave the gays alone.”

The bill, introduced in June 2021, is the culmination of a violent response to the opening of Ghana’s first LGBTIQ community centre earlier the same year. The proposed law is regarded as so far-reaching that Human Rights Watch has said it “beggars belief”.

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It would require anyone who knows an LGBTIQ person to report them to the police. In addition, identifying as LGBTIQ would attract a three- to five-year prison sentence. Homosexuality is already punishable by a colonial-era law in Ghana, but there have not been any prosecutions in years. The bill could also compel people to undergo so-called ‘conversion therapy’. An openDemocracy investigation this year found that supporters of the bill, including top doctors, were using misinformation to train nurses and psychologists in these practices.

“Parts of the bill in its present form violate some fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution, including the right to freedom of expression, thought and conscience and freedom from discrimination,” said Dame in a document made public on Thursday and addressed to the chair of Ghana’s Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. Caution is necessary, he added, “as any unconstitutionality or illegality exposes the state to unwarranted civil actions”.

But a spokesperson for Rightify Ghana, one of the LGBTIQ organisations at the forefront of campaigning against the bill, said: “It is disappointing that the attorney general failed to be bold and to reject the entire proposed law.”

Dame’s analysis criticises a line of the bill that seeks to criminalise “any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female”. He says this could violate the constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression, thought, conscience and belief for Ghanians. “In essence, a person has a right to hold personal ideologies,” he wrote.

He also singled out another clause targeting intersex people, saying it would violate the right to “human dignity”.

But he supported clauses criminalising the “promotion” of LGBTIQ activities in the media and calling for the disbandment of LGBTIQ organisations and groups, saying freedom of expression and association “can be restricted in the interest of defence, public safety or public health” under the constitution.

Disappointed

Alex Kofi Donkor, the director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, told openDemocracy he was disappointed by Dame’s legal opinion.

He said Dame had missed an opportunity to be “unequivocal, unambiguous and confident about the unconstitutionality, illegality and unnecessary targeting of LGBTQIA Ghanaians by fundamentalist groups”. “This was an opportunity to completely abort the bill from the government perspective but he gave room for some aspects of the bill to stand,” he added.

Dame’s opinion also expresses concern over the cost of the bill to the government. Ghana is currently facing economic hardships, with inflation recorded at over 37% in September, prompting protests calling for the president’s resignation.

“We encourage the attorney general to take a strong position against the anti-LGBTQI bill and stop trying to please both sides,” said the spokesperson from Rightify Ghana. “You can’t be neutral if you truly care about human rights and justice.”

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