ARTICLE 19 condemns the Kenyan authorities’ homophobic comments against the LGBTQ+ community following the murder of prominent activist Edwin Chiloba. We urge lawmakers to work with civil society towards overhauling domestic laws and policies that perpetuate discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ+ community, and to put an end to the hateful rhetoric propagated by public officials.
On 4 January 2023, Edwin Chiloba, a LGBTQ+ activist, was found murdered, his body stashed in a metallic box in Kapseret, Uasin Gishu county. The findings of the investigation carried out by authorities indicate that he was murdered as a result of intimate partner violence and the main suspect is set to be charged with murder.
The news of the murder was met with homophobic reactions in the country, most worryingly from public officials. In a tweet, a member of parliament claimed that being gay or lesbian and engaging in ‘unnatural sexual acts’ is a ‘criminal’ behaviour. Others have called for members of the LGBTQ+ community to be jailed, while the area member of parliament for Kapseret, where Chiloba was murdered, stated that the community does not promote homosexuality and locals should not entertain the ‘lifestyle’.
This is not the first time homophobic comments have been made by public officials. The former president had made it clear that he believed that same sex relations go against the cultural beliefs of the majority of Kenyans and that it was a non-issue for the nation. The current president, formerly deputy president, had also in the past clearly stated that there is ‘no room for homosexuality’ in the country.
‘ARTICLE 19 stands with the LGBTQ+ community in Kenya, and we call for an end to systemic discrimination and homophobic speech directed towards them. Such statements are particularly egregious coming from public officials who use their platform to spur hateful rhetoric and prejudice, encouraging violence against the community,’ said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
While Kenya’s constitution makes no direct reference to LGBTQ+ individuals nor their rights, it provides for inclusivity and equality for all. The country has also ratified international human rights instruments that have direct bearing on LGBTQ+ individuals and their rights, including protection from discrimination. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights all speak to the respect and protection of all human beings’ rights without discrimination of any kind, including race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or any status.
However, Kenya’s laws forbidding same sex relations contribute to the stigmatisation of the LGBTQ+ community. Sections 162 (a) and (c) of the penal code outlaw same sex relations and prescribes a sentence of up to a maximum of 14 years in prison. While there are laws and policies against sexual and gender-based violence in Kenya, they make no reference to LGBTQ+ people.
This lack of recognition in law, coupled with homophobic rhetoric from leaders, perpetuate the climate of prejudice and violence towards the community. It also renders the targeting of LGBTQ+ people invisible under Kenya’s laws and inadvertently leads to a lack of or inadequate response from authorities when called on to investigate cases of violence on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender expression.
In April 2022, Sheila Lumumba was found murdered in Karatina, Nyeri County. According to reports, there were signs of rape, broken limbs and stab wounds in a crime that was believed to be linked to her real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression. In the face of inadequate response from authorities, LGBTQ+ activists started a campaign on social media calling on #JusticeForSheila aimed at ensuring the authorities properly investigated the matter and brought those responsible to justice.
‘Discriminatory laws and homophobic utterances from public officials, added to inadequate response from authorities when handling cases of violence against LGBTQ+ people, enable and incite the culture of homophobia and transphobia and tolerance for discrimination and abuse against them. It’s time for the Kenyan government to listen,’ continued Kiai.
We call on the government of Kenya to ensure:
- A prompt, thorough and independent investigation into the murder of Edwin Chiloba and for all those responsible to be prosecuted.
- All crimes against LGBTQ+ people in Kenya, including killings on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression, to also be thoroughly investigated and those responsible prosecuted.
- All domestic laws and policies that contribute to the climate of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people are reviewed and amended to fully guarantee the rights of LGBTQ+ people without discrimination on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity.