In an historic ruling, Angolan lawmakers voted to strike the colonial era “vices against nature” law, which has long been interpreted as a law against same-sex relations, and used to discriminate against and persecute LGBT persons for decades.

The Angolan National Assembly, Luanda. Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

The vote, held on 23 January, means that homosexuality will no longer be criminalised in Angola. This makes Angola the first nation in 2019 to decriminalise homosexuality.

Going further still in what is a major leap forward, new protections were put in place making it illegal to discriminate against someone or refuse to hire them because of their sexual orientation. Failure to comply could, in theory, result in two years jailtime for offenders.

“The passing of a new penal code and simultaneous prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Angola is the epitome of the kind of national impact we’d like to see regional interventions contributing to and we hope to see Angola continue to be a place of progress,” says Iranti’s Advocacy Manager, Joshua Sehoole.

“Resolution 275 condemning violence and discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity was passed in Angola in 2014 by the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights, our continent’s main human rights body. The passing of the resolution was a result of years of hard work, and was a great victory, attesting that human rights are universal and that every African is protected by the African Charter.”

“The path taken by Lusophone African countries over the past few years has been encouraging,” says Sibongile Ndashe, Executive Director at ISLA (Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa).” Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Mozambique and now Angola, all Lusophone countries, have decriminalised through law reform. What we are learning is that investing in law reform does not seem to be a misplaced priority.”

She adds that “tracking the development of law reform processes is something that activists will need to continue paying attention to. Many donors do not want to fund law reform processes and some countries have laws that prohibit funding activities that seek to change laws in other countries. This is an opportunity to rethink that”.

This positive start to the new year leaves 69 nations across the g lobe yet to follow suit. Some seem unlikely to change their policies anytime soon, despite the ongoing trend toward equality, though this has not dissuaded countless activists from continuing to advocate for safety, dignity and freedom for all, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender-identities.
Conversely, other nations such as Botswana, seem to be on the cusp of radical change, with a decriminalisation debate ongoing thanks largely to the efforts of the recently registered LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana), SALC (Southern African Litigation Centre) and a range of other stakeholders.

“It is soon to tell if the strategies used to decriminalise through law reform can be used in English-speaking Africa, says Ndashe. “In contexts where there have been preoccupation with passing new laws that target LGBT people the legislature may not offer that much promise. [Activists in] Kenya and Botswana are using the courts to decriminalise, and decisions are awaited. Whether through litigation or legislation there is no denying that things are changing.”

It is yet to be seen though if the Angolan ruling will have any tangible impact on its neighbours in the SADC region, or if things will indeed keep changing for the better for the LGBT community living in Angola. Legal reform, while often progressive on paper, has not always translated into improved living conditions for vulnerable communities on the ground.
“Being based in South Africa where anti-LGBTI violence remains rife despite comprehensive legal protections, it’s abundantly clear for us that legislative reform is often incomplete, and always only a beginning,” says Sehoole. “While we welcome the protections based on sexual orientation, explicit protections based on gender identity and expression would be more effective in addressing the community which often bears the brunt of anti-gay laws the most; trans and queer people whose gender expression is visibly non-conforming.”

“We hope to see the Angolan government continue to make advancements in this regard, and to see them act unequivocally whether it be nationally, regionally or globally, in contributing to positive change for the LGBT community everywhere.”

For more information on this or Iranti and ISLA’s other work, contact kellyn@iranti.org.za