Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises sex between men
  • Criminalises sex between women
Penal Law 1976, Article 14.74 Voluntary Sodomy

Article 14.74 criminalises “deviate sexual intercourse”, defined broadly as “sexual contact between human beings who are not husband and wife or living together as man and wife though not legally married, consisting of contact between the penis and the anus, the mouth and the penis, or the mouth and vulva”. “Sexual contact” is further defined as “any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.” The offence is punishable with up to one year imprisonment and applies to sexual acts both between men and between women.1

Enforcement

2016

The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Liberia stated that in October an LGBT organisation reported that several individuals were arrested and
accused of sodomy, one of whom had been arrested after reporting to the police that he had been robbed.

2013

The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Liberia stated that the sodomy provision was largely ignored and rarely enforced. It found no examples of its usage during the year.

Statements by Public Figures

2017

In August, Senate President, Pro Tempore Jallah, released a statement claiming: “homosexuals and lesbians are using the dollars to ruin the sanity of young people”.

Homosexuals and lesbians are using the dollars to ruin the sanity of young people.

Pro Tempore Jallah, Senate President

In February, a senior LNP officer stated officers should not protect LGBT individuals because their identity violated the law, although there is no such law.

2014

In August, Liberia Council of Churches ministers reportedly signed a statement warning individuals that the recent Ebola outbreak in the country has been caused by immoral acts such as homosexuality. The statement was signed by over 100 ministers, including the leading Catholic official in the country, Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier.

2012

In March, when asked by an interviewer whether Liberia would consider decriminalising consensual same-sex acts, Nobel Peace Prize winner and then President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, responded strongly in the negative: “I have already taken a position on that, we are not going to sign any such law. I won’t sign any law that has to do with that area, none whatsoever. We like ourselves just the way we are… We have got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve… we are going to maintain our traditional values.”

We have got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve… we are going to maintain our traditional values.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President

Shortly after the release of the aforementioned interview with President Sirleaf, the Guardian posted a letter from the President’s office, criticising the interview, and clarifying her position: “She is on record as saying (including in the video that accompanied your article online) that any law brought before her regarding homosexuality will be vetoed. This also applies to an attempt by two members of the Liberian legislature to introduce tougher laws targeting homosexuality. It is therefore very disappointing to see you report that President Sirleaf is defending laws criminalising homosexuality. She and her government believe the current law on sexual practices sufficiently addresses the concerns of the majority of Liberians and guarantees respect for traditional values. The reality is that the status quo in Liberia has been one of tolerance, and no one has ever been prosecuted under that law.”

In January, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler, stated: “I will never support a gay bill because it is damaging to the survival of the country.”

In the same month, Councillor Jerome Verdier, Sr, former chair of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC), argued against the decriminalisation of consensual same-sex relations, stating: “legalizing homosexuality will further erode and degrade the moral fabric of our nation and degenerate its civilization and godliness”.

Persecution and Discrimination

2017

The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Liberia stated that activists had reported difficulties for LGBT persons in obtaining redress for crimes committed against them, including at police stations, because those accused of criminal acts used the victim’s LGBT status as a defence. This societal stigma attached to being LGBT in Liberia deters victims from reporting violence and discrimination. For example, one transgender woman reported being attacked in her apartment by five men who robbed, bound, beat, and raped her. The victim did not report the crime to police.

2016

In November, an NGO promoting LGBT rights was denied reregistration by the Liberia Business Registry for “activity which is not allowed in Liberia.” The registration request continued to be denied.

2013

A December report by Human Rights Watch point to many instances of violence and persecution conducted against individuals who are perceived to be gay. As in Uganda following the passage of the (now quashed) Anti-Homosexuality Act, individuals living in Liberia have reported an increase in the levels of persecution and violence to which they are exposed since the introduction of two bills to further criminalise LGBT individuals in the country (below). As one individual reported: “Before these laws, LGBT persons had few problems, they were able to come and go freely, even had gay parties without interference from the public. There was public harassment here and there but hardly ever anything to the degree that it is experienced today. Since the [proposed] laws were introduced, SAIL has had more and more cases of public harassment, violent attacks, families disowning their children, and even evictions from rented spaces”.

The report provides testimony from 30 LGBT individuals about the range of human rights abuses LGBT individuals in Liberia are exposed to, including physical assaults and police abuse.

Legislative News

2015

In its second UPR cycle, Liberia accepted a recommendation to implement provisions in the  National Human Rights Action Plan for the protection of vulnerable individuals which includes LGBT persons. However, Liberia noted another recommendation concerning the decriminalisation of consensual same-sex activities between adults and the prevention of discrimination against them.

2012

A bill that would further criminalise “homosexual behaviour” was passed by the Liberian Senate and roundly criticised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: “We are also concerned about the atmosphere of intimidation and violence against gay and lesbian activists, as well as reports of attacks against them,” said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani. “Such harassment illustrates the difficult, discriminatory environment in which gay rights activists are operating.” The law has not yet been passed by the Liberian Senate, and President Sirleaf has promised to veto any new law (above).

2010

Whilst there was no reference to sexual orientation during the report of the working group in Liberia’s first UPR cycle, stakeholders did note their concerns at laws which criminalise consensual same-sex sexual relations in Liberia.

Footnotes
1. Penal Law 1976, Article 14.74 Voluntary Sodomy

“14.74. Voluntary sodomy.

A person who engages in deviate sexual intercourse under circumstance not stated in Section 14.72 or 14.73 has committed a first degree misdemeanor.

14.79. Definitions relating to sections on sexual crimes against the person.

(a) “sexual intercourse” occurs upon penetration, however slight; ejaculation is not required; (But, see Section 14.70.)

(b) “deviate sexual intercourse” means sexual contact between human beings who are not husband and wife or living together as man and wife though not legally married, consisting of contact between the penis and the anus, the mouth and the penis, or the mouth and vulva;

50.7. Sentence to imprisonment for misdemeanor.

A person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor may be sentenced to imprisonment for the following terms:

(a) For a misdemeanor of the first degree, to a definite term of imprisonment to be fixed by the court at no more than one year;” Full text.

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