Mozambique’s new Penal Code, which came into effect in June this year after being approved by the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, last year, is a welcome step forward towards a country free from discrimination that the founders of the nation dreamed and fought for.
Though the new Code does not ‘legalise’ homosexuality as some international media has claimed, it does remove the Portuguese colonial Penal Code’s provision for ‘security measures’ to be taken against anyone practicing ‘vices against nature’. That colonial Code did not define ‘vices against nature’ to include homosexual behaviour – were the Portuguese colonial legislators too squeamish to mention gay sex by name? In practice the courts never sentenced anybody to ‘security measures’ for being gay – some jurists believe it would have been impossible to implement these articles in a court of law – and it is significant that since Mozambican independence in 1975, nobody has been prosecuted because of his or her sexual orientation.
Lambda, the NGO which fights for the rights of Mozambican sexual minorities, in a statement issued on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Day (28 June), believed that the very existence of these articles constituted “a factor of uncertainty” for gay people. Socially LGBTI people, seen as being outside of the law, “were victims of ill-treatment, or even attempts at extortion”. Lambda’s statement continues: “All forms of discrimination should be repudiated and are an assault against freedom, the great theme of our revolution. While there is any person oppressed, peace will never be genuine, and freedom will be a vain word in the dictionary”. The Mozambican gay community has declared its wish for Mozambique “to become a world reference in defence of the fundamental rights and freedoms of each and every one of us”, and the Lambda statement expressed its desire that “above all we can be proud of being children of this motherland that embraces all of us with open arms as its sons and daughters”.
Now the new Penal Code has swept away all mention of ‘vices against nature’ and there is nothing in the text that can be interpreted as banning homosexuality. “By revoking these articles, Mozambique is beginning to put itself on the right side of the history of humanity”, the Lambda statement continues. “We are inaugurating a new era, an era of respect for equality, which means, accepting, respecting and protecting differences. Our recently built democratic edifice needs men and women of all races and ages, physical and financial conditions, and of all sexual orientations”.
Lambda will continue its eight-year-old campaign for recognition as a legitimate association from the Ministry of Justice. Under the country’s laws, any group of ten or more Mozambican citizens, over the age of 18, can form an association, and legal registration should not take more than 45 days. So far the Ministry of Justice has simply failed to reply to Lambda’s repeated requests, thereby neatly sidestepping the need to give reasons.
This removal of colonial era legal provisions that were part of the panoply of social oppression in Mozambique can serve as a pointer to what is required for progress on equal human rights in a number of former colonies [British, French and Portuguese] in Africa where similar laws coined to enforce control in accordance with foreign and now outdated mores remain on the statute books decades after independence. African countries where this is the case can, by a simple step of repeal, advance the dignity and equal citizenship of numbers of their citizens.
(AIM’s report of 3rd July 2015 is acknowledged as the source of much of the material in this article)