Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males
  • Criminalises sexual activity between females

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Criminal Code 2004, which criminalises ‘homosexual or indecent acts’. This provision carries a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment (for consensual activity). Both men and women are criminalised under this law.

Unlike almost all other African states, Ethiopia was not colonised by a European country so its criminalising law is of local origin. Prior to the adoption of the 2004 Criminal Code, the 1957 Penal Code was in force in Ethiopia and criminalised ‘unnatural carnal offences’.

There is some evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, however information is extremely scarce due to societal stigmatisation and the lack of accessibility of court documents. Although there have been documented arrests of LGBT people, there is no information on anyone being prosecuted under the law.

There have been consistent reports of societal discrimination against LGBT people in Ethiopia, with the LGBT community largely being driven underground, unable to safely reveal their identities.



In August, the Addis Ababa Peace and Security Administration Bureau, a government body, said it was taking action “against institutions where homosexual acts are carried out”, such as hotels and other businesses, following tip-offs from the public.

“If there is any sympathy for those who commit and execute this abominable act that is hated by man and God, (the bureau) will continue to take action,” the city administration said in a post on Facebook on 4 August 2023.

The city’s police department launched a hotline for reporting “illegal activities that deviate from the law and social values”, which sparked fear among the LGBT community for a wave of arrests.


ILGA World has found at least nine incidents of the criminalising provision being enforced, though these do not appear to have resulted in convictions. However, the inaccessibility of court documents, and the lack of disclosure of arrests from LGBT people due to societal stigma, means this is likely to be an underreporting of the true number.


The US Department of State report for 2020 noted that there were no reports of people being incarcerated or prosecuted for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity. This was the same finding for all iterations for this report since 2015.


ILGA World’s State-Sponsored Homophobia report quoted an Ethiopian human rights lawyer who claimed that no one had been charged or prosecuted under the law since its introduction in 2004.


The US Department of State report highlighted that as many as a dozen people were incarcerated for allegedly engaging in same-sex sexual activity. No information is available as to whether these people were prosecuted.


The US Department of State report found examples of LGBT individuals being placed under periodic detention, where they were interrogated and allegedly subjected to physical abuse.

Discrimination and Violence


In August, the Ethiopian LGBT NGO House of Guramayle reported numerous attacks on LGBT individuals in Ethiopia, especially on social media platforms, amounting to hate speech and incitement to violence. In a video posted on 5 August on TikTok, a popular evangelical Christian pastor (with 250,000 followers) called for gay people to be stripped naked and publicly whipped.


According to Australia’s Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade report, LGBT people face high levels of discrimination, including in employment and education, and are vulnerable to violence and ostracism if their identities are discovered. There is no visible LGBT community as a result. 

The US Department of State report highlighted that LGBT are not legally protected from discrimination, and experience violence and surveillance. It also noted that LGBT people do not generally identify themselves openly due to criminalisation and societal stigma, which limits the extent of reporting of discrimination against the community.


Research published in 2019 found that 37% of LGBT people had experienced physical violence in their lifetime, with 22% reporting incidents in the last year. Furthermore, 30% had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime (13% in the last year), and 35% had been subjected to SOGI-related verbal harassment (25% in the last year).


An in-depth study conducted by the Australian Refugee Review Tribunal found that “homosexuality is viewed adversely and with considerable hostility by the broader community”, whilst national newspapers have persistently warned against the Western importation and promotion of homosexuality.


Related Countries


Eritrea criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment.


Somalia criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death.


Kenya criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. Sentences include a maximum penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment.

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