The human rights organization Amnesty International has criticized African governments for harsh new laws targeting homosexuals. This discrimination has led to a rise in violence and has hampered efforts to combat AIDS.
Homosexuality is illegal in 38 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Amnesty International's report entitled Making Love a Crime. It warned that "homophobia is reaching dangerous levels."
Some countries have recently introduced news laws making same-sex acts a crime, while others have increased the severity of the punishment for homosexuality.
South Sudan and Burundi have introduced new laws criminalizing same-sex relations, while Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria are pushing bills that would toughen existing penalties.
Uganda was cited as one of the leading states that have sought to toughen laws criminalizing homosexuality, including introducing a bill that seeks to impose the death penalty for homosexuality and the threat of prosecution for all those who fail to report violations within 24 hours.
In Sudan and northern Nigeria, the report says gays are at risk of being killed if outed and people arrested in Cameroon have reported abuse by the police, including forced anal exams.
South Africa is the only country on the continent that recognizes gay rights and allows same-sex marriage. But even there, the report stated "a persistently high number of rapes and murders" of lesbians, who are commonly targeted for attacks known as "corrective rape" by men trying to "cure" their homosexuality.
Often, people who are accused of homosexuality are arrested based merely on their appearance, rather than evidence, according to the London-based rights group.
Africa's strict penal codes were initially imposed by colonial rulers and were based on Christian moral values, Amnesty's report explained.
The report claimed that attacks on gays were now being fuelled by politicians and religious leaders.
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, for example, has compared gays to "dogs and pigs" and has dismissed gays as being "un-African."
"In some African countries political leaders target sexual orientation issues to distract attention from their overall human rights record," said Widney Brown, Amnesty International's director of Law and Policy.
The report concluded that discrimination against gays not only lead to abuse, but also scared people away from seeking medical attention.
This also counteracts efforts to combat the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, Amnesty said.
rg/dr (dpa, AFP)