Ghana’s LGBT Population Safe From Persecution, But Not Prosecution

Newly appointed head of Ghana’s Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Lauretta Lamptey said yesterday that current Ghanaian law does not criminalize gays and lesbians as a class of people, but rather “unnatural carnal acts.” She added that the prosecution of people suspected of being gay would require a change in Ghana’s laws.

Just over a week after being cited as favoring decriminalization of homosexuality, Lamptey added that she was “misquoted and therefore misrepresented.” Ms. Lamptey, a recent appointment by President John Atta Mills to head the human rights commission, was asked her views of homosexuality. Yesterday, Ms. Lamptey told Ghana’s Joy FM that she was commenting on the debate and not her personal views on the matter.

For months, Ghanaian and international observers have been seeking a clear statement of policy from the administration of John Atta Mills concerning homosexuals in the West African nation. Recently, Western Region Minister Paul Evans Aidoo called for the arrests of those suspected to be gay in order to test Ghana’s current law against “unnatural carnal knowledge.” In response, a coalition of human rights and civil society organizations has stepped up calls for decriminalization of homosexuality. Commissioner Lamptey’s statements about homosexuality are the closest the government has come to a response to the growing calls of religious leaders to make laws against homosexuality more clear and severe.

In her most recent interview, Lamptey told Joy FM that she is only prepared to talk about the current debate in Ghana about rights for homosexuals in Ghana. Speaking about current law, Commissioner Lamptey said “homosexuals have rights as individuals that don’t need to be legislated… against non-discrimination, against defamation.” Lamptey then said even murderers have rights in Ghana, adding “if you attack a murderer, the state will protect that murderer’s right not to be attacked.” Even if someone is attacked by another citizen for being gay, the state will protect their rights not to be attacked, Lamptey added. “Gays do have rights against persecution,” she said.

However, according to Lamptey, gays may have rights against persecution, but they may still be subject to prosecution from the government if indeed the law makes homosexuality a criminal offense. There is some ambiguity among Ghanaian legal scholars about how homosexual behavior fits in the law’s identification of “unnatural carnal acts” as being a criminal offense. Commissioner Lamptey said that her agency could not advocate for rights like gay marriage when the related activity is against the law. She added, “if that is what the law does, if homosexuality is a crime in this country, then people should not have an issue with a Minister saying he will prosecute homosexuals.”

Citing the debate over Minister John Paul Aidoo’s calls for arrest, Lamptey said, “He’s got a right to prosecute homosexuality, if it is a crime.”

However, in her role as lead attorney for the government human rights committee she does not believe the law criminalizes those gays who do not engage in sex. “If it is only the act that is criminal, then I don’t think you can say that the category of people that you think engage in those acts is criminal,” Lamptey said. Instead of calling for decriminalization of homosexual acts, Lamptey intended to call for a debate in the Ghanaian legislature about whether to remove penalties for the act or to strengthen them to cover gays as a group. Lamptey added, “I am not here to say it should be changed or it shouldn’t, that isn’t how I see my role, and certainly not in the first week of starting” her new role as Commissioner.

Given that Ms. Lamptey’s remarks comes from a recent Mills’ appointee, it may be safe to assume that the President will not take a strong policy position either in favor of decriminalization or against it. Coming out in favor of decriminalization would put the government at odds with Christian and Islamic groups who have promised no support for any politician who advocated decriminalization. Thus, politically, it appears that the Mills administration has decided to walk the middle road between far right religious groups and the more moderate civil society elements who are calling for tolerance.