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Cablegate: Civil Society Advocates Against Criminalizing

VZCZCXRO7323
PP RUEHGI RUEHRN
DE RUEHLGB #0783 3281649
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241649Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY KIGALI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6443
INFO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0314
RUZEFAA/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP 0107

UNCLAS KIGALI 000783

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI KCRM RW
SUBJECT: CIVIL SOCIETY ADVOCATES AGAINST CRIMINALIZING
HOMOSEXUALITY AND PROSTITUTION

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: A coalition of Rwandan civil society
representatives met on November 18 to sign a petition urging
legislators to remove two articles from the draft penal code,
which is currently in parliament. According to the coalition,
the proposed articles would criminalize homosexuality and sex
work and contradict the Rwandan constitution and
international conventions to which Rwanda is a signatory. The
coalition believes the articles would have negative social
and health implications for the two minority groups. They
held a press conference November 21 and plan to deliver the
petition and position paper to parliament by November 24. END
SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Over 20 representatives from local health and human
rights NGOs met November 18 as a coalition to finalize a
position paper and sign a petition urging parliament to
remove two articles from the draft penal code. According to a
translated version in the civil society position paper,
article 217 states, "Any person who practices, encourages or
sensitizes people of the same sex, to sexual relations or any
sexual practice, shall be liable for a term of imprisonment
ranging from five to ten years and fine ranging from 200,000
Rwandan Francs (approximately $400) to one million Rwandan
Francs (approximately $2,000)," and article 221 states, "Any
person who practices the profession of prostitution, shall be
liable for a term of imprisonment ranging from six months to
three years and a fine ranging from fifty thousand Rwandan
Francs (approximately $100) to 500,000 Rwandan Francs
(approximately $1,000) or one of the two sentences."
According to the team of local legal and health experts who
wrote the position
paper, the articles violate human rights and gender equality,
contradict the Rwandan constitution, and disregard
international conventions to which Rwanda is a signatory.

3. (SBU) At the meeting, chaired by the president of the
Rwanda NGO Forum on HIV/AIDS and Health Promotion, the group
discussed the possible implications of the two articles,
expressing concern that these articles would likely push
minority groups further into hiding and they will have no
access to health and other social services. Another concern
was that the vague wording of the articles could make
advocacy activities such as condom distribution and HIV
testing for these groups illegal. The participants also
discussed the fact that although government officials
initially denied the existence of a Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual,
Trans-Gender, and Intersexual (LGBTI) community in Rwanda,
the 2009-2012 Rwanda National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS
did identify men having sex with men (MSM) as a group at high
risk for HIV/AIDS and targeted it for prevention and
treatment services.

4. (SBU) The meeting concluded with 14 of 18 local civil
society representatives signing the petition and three or
four representatives promising signatures from their
organization's head. One group, the Horizon Community
Association of Rwanda (HOCA), which advocates for the rights
of the LGBTI community, has not yet signed, reportedly
because they are wary of a paper that groups LGBTI and sex
workers together. The coalition plans to deliver the petition
and position paper to the speaker of parliament, individual
members, and key ministries by November 24. Additionally,
they held a press conference November 21. The coalition
believes parliament will resume discussion on the penal code
Qbelieves parliament will resume discussion on the penal code
in the next two weeks. (Note: According to civil society
representatives, parliament has passed the first 100 articles
in the penal code. End Note.)

5. (SBU) COMMENT: Homosexuality is a sensitive issue in
Rwanda, with many believing it immoral and alien to Rwandan
culture. During the meeting many representatives snickered
and pointed when two women in men's clothing, both
representatives of HOCA, stood to discuss the petition.
Additionally, civil society in Rwanda faces challenges such
as lack of capacity and education, little understanding of
advocacy and activism, and losing talented employees to
better paying jobs. Rwandan civil society representatives
have been lobbying government officials and members of
parliament, some of whom have responded that homosexuality is
a "western issue" and that if the debate reaches Parliament,
it will be "longest debate ever." One homosexual involved in
the campaign has reportedly received anonymous threats and
one of the leading NGOs has pulled out of the campaign. END
COMMENT.
SYMINGTON

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