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Rights NGOs call for official's resignation over homophobic remarks

[Namibia] President of Namibia - Sam Nujoma.
Sam Nujoma (UN DPI)

Outraged human rights organisations have called for the resignation of a Namibian government minister for making homophobic remarks.

In a speech at a Heroes Day gathering on 3 September outside the capital, Windhoek, the deputy minister of home affairs and immigration, Theopolina Mushelenga, accused gays and lesbians of causing HIV/AIDS.

Mushelenga reportedly accused gays and lesbians of betraying the country's struggle for freedom, and called them "a slap in the face of African culture".

She also warned the youth not to allow the "prophets of same-sex love" to mislead them.

The Rainbow Project, a local NGO lobbying for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), said Mushelenga's statement "can only intensify the social stigma and prejudice that LGBT people are already experiencing".

A spokesperson for the NGO said it had recorded over 3,000 cases of violence directed against the LGBT community since the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, 75 percent of the country's LGBT people preferred to suffer in silence to avoid becoming targets of hate speech and crime.

According to a women's rights organisation, Sister Namibia, Mushelenga's speech could incite violence against sexual minorities, and "to make matters worse, people living with HIV/AIDS have been included in this", read a statement by the group.

This week another NGO, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), called on Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba and his administration to distance themselves from Mushelenga's "hate expressions" and described her speech as unlawful and unconstitutional.

The Namibian constitution guarantees the right to dignity, equality before the law and non-discrimination, said NSHR spokeswoman Dorkas Phillemon.

"LGBT people continue to experience widespread discrimination, homophobia and related intolerance. Sexual minorities also continue to be prejudiced, excluded, stigmatised, assaulted, raped and even brutally murdered," she remarked.

"Singling out these people for such dangerous incitement, and holding them responsible for the country's number one killer disease is not only manifestly false," said Phillemon, "but also constitutes an intentional and reckless effort to expose sexual minorities to even more hate crimes."

Former president Sam Nujoma in 2001 called on police to arrest, deport and imprison gays and lesbians.

IRIN was unable to obtain comment from the Namibian government.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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