A Fight for Recognition: The LGBT Community’s Battle in Mozambique
As gay Americans make headlines fighting for their marital rights, in Mozambique, and many other countries in Africa, the battle looks different and is much quieter.
“The LGBT community is afraid,” said Danilo Da Silva, Executive Director of Lambda. “They’re afraid of losing the people they love, of being rejected, of being outcast. They’re afraid because there is no precedent.”
Da Silva’s Lambda (The Mozambican Association for the Defense of Sexual Minorities) is the sole LGBT Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Mozambique, a country twice the size of California, with a population of over 25 million.
Despite the scale of its work, Lambda remains unrecognized by the Mozambican government.
Over fish and chips in a busy café off Avenida Vladimir Lenine in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, Da Silva and I sat for lunch.
“The legal framework in Mozambique is fuzzy,” Da Silva explained, “and because laws are vague, they don’t offer protection. For example, there are no laws here protecting an LGBT person from being evicted, even attacked for their sexual identity.”
Dealing with this ambiguous legal framework has become quite routine at Lambda’s headquarters, an unassuming, art-deco-esque, three-story that appears more befitting of Havana than sub-Saharan Africa.
“People come to Lambda with stories of violence and abuse,” said Da Silva. In addition to counseling these individuals, Lambda encourages victims of violence to pursue legal action.
“Most people are too afraid to take their cases to the courts,” Da Silva explained. “We encourage these individuals to do so because documenting cases of LGBT violence is essential in pressuring the government to create legislation to stop it from occurring.”
For Lambda, however, issues of legality span beyond cases of individual violence. Da Silva and his team at Lambda have been fighting tirelessly for legal recognition in a battle that’s lasted since 2008.
The recognition they seek would mean not only access to funding, tax exemption status, and workspace for Lambda, but legitimacy and leadership within Mozambique. As homosexual males represent a most at risk population for the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Lambda seeks to meet the unique needs of the LGBT community.
After years of awaiting response, early this year Lambda submitted their case to the United Nations Human Rights Council citing violations of the right of association, amongst others.
Finally, in October, during the Universal Periodic Review of Mozambique, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights questioned the government about their failure to recognize and register Lambda as a legal NGO. In their response, a delegate confirmed:
The Government of Mozambique did not recognize Lambda, which was the only gay rights non-governmental organization, but said there was no violence against the homosexual population in the country.
“It’s pure nonsense,” said Da Silva, setting down his glass of cola. “Simply because there are no recorded incidents of violence doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”
However, things may be looking up for Da Silva’s Lambda.
In early December, the INS, the research division of the Mozambican Ministry of Health released their Biological and Behavioral Survey Among Men Who Have Sex with Men.
The study cited that 2.6 percent of MSM in Maputo have suffered physical abuse in the past year due to their sexual orientation, directly contradicting the Mozambican government’s statements to the UN Human Rights Council only two months previously.
The government’s negligence in recognizing Lambda has prompted officials from both the Mozambican and international communities to stand behind Da Silva and his team.
During Human Rights Week in December, U.S. Ambassador to Mozambique, Douglass Griffiths, addressed an LGBT audience, declaring, “It is important that the government respond to any civil society organization that requests official recognition. I very much hope that Lambda will receive the recognition it so richly deserves.”
In early January, Former President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, also urged African leaders to evolve their stance on LGBT equality. In an open letter published in early January, Chissano outlined the importance of sexual rights as basic human rights:
We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis - we need to unleash the full potential of everyone.
With the growing support of the African and international communities, Da Silva remains positive.
“Change always finds resistance. Acknowledging there are different people who love differently, have different needs, and need to be addressed differently is always a challenge for governments,” Da Silva said. “But we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere. Recognition is just one step forward of many.”
As of January 2014, after six years, Lambda has still not received a response to their request for recognition from the Mozambican government.