Southern Africa is a hotbed of homophobia, Human Rights Watch and the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission said May 14.
In a report unveiled in Cape Town, the two organizations accused officials in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe of singling out GLBT people 'as scapegoats for their countries' problems.'
'Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been vilified by presidents and political leaders, which has led to a culture of intolerance,' said IGLHRC Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick.
The 298-page report—'More Than a Name: State-Sponsored Homophobia and its Consequences in Southern Africa'—details police harassment, official crackdowns and community violence. Victims reportedly have been evicted, fired, assaulted, imprisoned, expelled from school, denied access to medical care, and driven into exile or to suicide.
'When Southern African political leaders like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe make speeches saying that gays and lesbians are 'worse than dogs and pigs,' it should be no surprise that violent attacks follow,' said Scott Long of Human Rights Watch, co-author of the report.
On paper, South Africa is one of the most pro-gay nations in the world. It bans all anti-gay discrimination right in its post-apartheid constitution and has seen a long string of gay-friendly court rulings.
However, 'based on interviews with numerous individuals and activists, the report concludes that the equality guaranteed [GLBT] people is fragile, and even endangered by the silence and foot-dragging of political leaders in South Africa,' the groups said.
Zimbabwe's President Mugabe has said of gays: 'What an abomination, a rottenness of culture, real decadence of culture. [Homosexuals are] repugnant to my human conscience ... immoral and repulsive. ... Animals in the jungle are better than these people because at least they know that this is a man or a woman. ... I don't believe they have any rights at all.'
Namibian President Sam Nujoma has said: 'We will combat this with vigor. We will make sure that Namibia will get rid of lesbianism and homosexuality. ... Police are ordered to arrest you and deport you and imprison you. ... Those who are practicing homosexuality in Namibia are destroying the nation. Homosexuals must be condemned and rejected in our society. ... It is the devil at work.' — Rex Wockner