First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will today raise issues surrounding rights for people in same-sex relationships with the President of Ghana during his visit to Holyrood.
The Ghanaian leader, John Dramani Mahama, is observing First Minister’s Questions during his tour of Scotland, which will see him presented with an honorary degree from the University of Aberdeen.
Ms Sturgeon has come under some pressure recently to raise issues of LGBTI rights with Mr Mahama, as his visit to Scotland comes against a backdrop of increasing vigilate violence against homosexual and bisexual people in Ghana. The KaleidoScot Trust, Amnesty International and the Scottish Green Party called for the First Minister to confront Mr Mahama about human rights abuses.
Green Party MSPs and activists wrote to Tricia Marwick, the Presiding Officer who is also due to meet the African leader, saying: “We believe that the Scottish parliament should be a place where everyone can feel safe. Yet the invitation to President John Dramani Mahama to address MSPs can only undermine this, given his full support for the horrific discriminatory laws towards the LGBT community in his country.”
Ms Marwick has also come under pressure to discuss “gay rights”. However, she has stated that it is not her place to raise political questions.
Sexual activity with members of the same sex is illegal in Ghana, with “unnatural carnal knowledge” being punishable by up to three years in prison. While there are no specific laws on gay, lesbian or bisexual people expressing their orientation, they are often subjected to discrimination or physical attacks, and can be arrested with little legal substance and with little support from the authorities. Reported attacks on members of Ghana’s LGBT community are often ignored.
While Mr Mahama has publicly stated that he does not believe lesbian, gay and bisexual people should be killed or subjected to physical beatings on the basis of their sexual orientation, his government has refused to “take any step to promote homosexualism in Ghana.”
More positively, recent developments – including the founding of Solace Group Brothers, an LGBT advocacy group based in Accra – mean that more of Ghana’s LGBT community are becoming aware of their legal rights. The accusation that the President has given his “full support to horrific discriminatory laws” is unfair given that Mr Mahama has made some very positive declarations and finds himself in a near impossible position, attempting to maintain and even improve freedoms without risking a backlash from Evangelical organisations and other members of the African Union. In 2013, he suggested that it was difficult to act politically to improve LGBTI rights as “in [Ghana] there is a strong cultural hostility towards it.” Asked specifically about same-sex marriage, he told an American newspaper that “the question is not settled…[but] it’s very difficult for me. I’d rather not comment.”
However, real improvements and better protections from vigilantism are needed and will require the government to realise that its inability to act decisively is potentially aiding attacks and furthering inequality.
The Scottish Government had previously issued a statement that it would only discuss “issues of mutual interest” with Mr Mahama. However, yesterday Ms Sturgeon agreed that she would raise the issue directly and would share her own “values of humanity, equality and tolerance”.
Colin MacFarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, described the visit as a “key moment” and hoped that equality issues would be on the agenda. He said: “We sincerely hope that the Scottish Government will use this visit as an opportunity to demonstrate its support for LGBT equality internationally.
“While we’ve seen some promising statements from President Mahama criticising violence against LGBT communities, we believe that the Scottish Government has an important responsibility to help advance the protection of LGBT rights across the world, and this visit is a key moment.
“At Stonewall, we also believe in always engaging activists on the ground for their guidance on how opportunities for dialogue, such as this, could be of benefit to them, so we are actively reaching out to Ghanaian activists on this point.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said last night that it had a “positive record of raising LGBT issues and encouraging equality around the world” and confirmed that “during the First Minister and President Mahama’s short meeting [Ms Sturgeon] will share her strong view that the Commonwealth values of humanity, equality and tolerance are universal values.”