Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

my blog
Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary, established 2003

Malawi – the right response

Upon the news that a gay couple in Malawi, Mr Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Mr Steven Monjeza, were to be jailed for 14 years for unnatural acts, myself as Minister for Equality, foreign minister Henry Bellingham and international development minister Stephen O’Brien issued a joint statement.

The statement said: “We are deeply dismayed by the conviction for buggery and indecent practices of Mr Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Mr Steven Monjeza.

“We are also very concerned by the allegations of their mistreatment in police custody.

“Malawi has made significant progress on human rights in recent years.

“The government has signed up to international human rights treaties and Malawi’s constitution protects the rights of all its citizens.

“Infringement of these rights is intolerable. The conviction and sentencing to the maximum 14 years’ imprisonment of Mr Chimbalanga and Mr Monjeza runs counter to a positive trend.

“Britain has a close and strong partnership with Malawi and it is in this spirit that we raise our concerns. The UK believes that human rights apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The UK urges the government of Malawi to review its laws to ensure the defence of human rights for all, without discrimination on any grounds. The UK, along with our international partners, will continue to press the government of Malawi on this issue.”

International partners from around the world did indeed also make representations. And the response was that Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika pardoned the couple at the weekend and was rightly praised by US President Barack Obama and by British and Malawian gay rights groups.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was visiting Malawi at the time of the pardon and called Sunday’s release of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga from prison a ‘courageous decision’.

President Bingu Wa Mutharika made clear that the pardon was granted on strictly ‘humanitarian grounds’. Homosexuality remains against the law in Malawi.

Malawi is not alone, sadly, in respect of its views and laws on homosexuality. The Stonewall Report ‘No Going Back’ (published last week) makes it terrifyingly clear how urgent and important this agenda is: Consensual acts between same-sex adults are criminalised in 80 member states of the United Nations and homosexuality results in the death penalty in six of these countries. In many countries lesbian, gay and bisexual people face execution, torture, rape and murder from people in their own community or from their government.

How do you begin a long journey? With a single step – followed by a lot more steps – as quickly as possible!

Mon 31 May 2010
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Comments

  1. Dave Page says:

    Lynne, what do you make of the reports from the Malawian press that Tiwonge Chimbalanga identifies as a woman, and that this is a matter of transphobia rather than homophobia?

    It’s been rather glossed over in the UK press, and there have been contradictory reports including one from Peter Tatchell, but I would hope that we could get to the bottom of this. The potential erasure of Tiwonge’s gender identity to turn a story about transphobia into one about homophobia would be a serious dereliction of journalistic duty…

  2. Your position as Minister for Equalities applies to the UK. What remit do you have for interfering in the legal procedures of any other country?

    What has happened is neo-colonialism. I understand that South Africa is the only country on the continent which has ‘gay rights’. From the Muslim countries in the north down through the Christian countries and even the Marxist ones, there is common consensus that homosexual relations are unnatural and unwanted on the continent of Africa, just as they were in Europe just a couple of decades ago.

    Uganda is considering going too far, so that is another matter entirely, but this government has no right whatsoever and no mandate from the people of the UK to force African governments to adopt modern liberal hedonism against their will and better judgment.

  3. John Abrams says:

    First off – well done Lynne and what role did our own Government play.

    Second, I think Dave credits journalists with far more intelligence than they deserve – classic example was a journalist on a city paper `what about these cuts the Lib Dems will make?` me: `with such a deficit what would you do?` ans `don’t know I’m not an Economist`!

    Third, something struck me as not being quite right about the reporting also just looking at the pictures of the couple. Now you’ve said Tiwonge self-identifies as trans Dave’s point is well made.

  4. Whilst major news sources don’t mention it, there are newspapers of record covering the gender issue – see http://nyti.ms/bDJYwJ for the NYT’s coverage. I’ve already dropped a note to the BBC about their stories, hopefully they’ll at least mention it in their reporting and avoid use of gender-sepcific language. It might sound awkward at first, but if you’re uncertain about someone’s gender it’s really not that hard to avoid being specific – use “they” instead of “he”. I note in the above you specifically use “Mr”, which would seem like a poor idea.

    Lynne, I notice you mention Stonewall in the above. The trans community has experienced serious problems with Stonewall engaging in some quite bad oppression – have a look at the protests that happened back in 2008 when Stonewall nominated a known transphobe for an award, http://bit.ly/bWJlH7 lists some of the press coverage of that event. More recently, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia was billed by Stonewall as just Homophobia. I’m not sure if you’ve received information from Stonewall about this but they are far from a neutral source when it comes to trans issues and are quite happy to erase trans experiences to push their own LGB agenda. Please, when dealing with LGB*T* issues, seek input from Trans organisations and not just Stonewall.

    (I’ve tried to insert links into the above with sources, but your blog seems to identify it as spam if I do – let me know if you need more)

  5. Sarah Brown says:

    There’s a huge problem of appropriation going on here – in shouting loudly about this as a gay rights issue, there are those who are erasing the transgender identity of Tiwonge Chimbalanga (I have to say that seeing “Mr” in the post is making me cringe a bit), and erasing the transphobic aspects of this case.

    Sadly we in the transgender community are very used to having our identities and issues colonised by the GL part of the LGBT community when it suits their agenda (and I say this as someone who is also a lesbian woman), and then ignored the rest of the time, and we find it really difficult to get our voices heard. Roz Kaveney has a really good piece about this on her blog, here: http://rozk.livejournal.com/326981.html

  6. Thanks all for information on trans issue. Read the above link to Roz Kaveney – very helpful.

  7. Christina Alley says:

    I endorse the contributions of Dave, Zoe, Sarah and John. While the support of gay men and gay groups was welcome and no doubt helped mobilise support from politicians and celebrities, ultimately leading to Stephen and Tiwonge’s release, I wish that people would now acknowledge that Tiwonge is transgendered.

    Yes, I agree that the impetus needs to be maintained to call for an end to homophobic laws in Malawe (and elsewhere), but we should be calling for an end to transphobia as well.

  8. Nick says:

    I love it!
    There i was – lying in the bath- thinking how ace and fab everything was in the new politics, when suddenly i read a blogger’s description of me as- get this- not ace and fab, but, fab and ace! Well, assuming this was a compliment, i quickly pasted it to my collection of favourable quotes that I love to frequently use to show how ace and fab I am- to everybody, and realised that the positioning of ace and fab in either context doesn’t matter in the new politics as you can use differing positions on everything!
    I mean, look at me! One minute I can state a great case for the new order of non-point-scoring politics where everyone should be fabby together, and the next i can completely slate the the labour party when my jolly new party wins 3 little council seats in camden!
    Why, i can even call into question the honesty and integrity of david cameron, and make up a little name for him- david ‘trust me’ cameron on May 2nd- and get this- end up working for him a week later!!
    Ace and fab!
    The new politics- it’s ace and fab and I love it!!

  9. Paula says:

    ‘How do you begin a long journey? With a single step – followed by a lot more steps – as quickly as possible!’

    And the UK should be doing precisely this for our trans community!

    We do not imprison trans people as in Malawi but the State requires trans-affected couples to break up their legal marriages for the trans partner to obtain legal recognition.

    The first step was the GRA but here we need a lot more of those steps as soon as possible!

    Please ask if you want to know what these are.

    Paula

  10. Sebastian says:

    Lynne,

    It’s good that you’re reading and acknowledging the comments that have been made about this being a trans issue, rather than one of simple homophobia, but speaking as a gay trans constituent, it would be very much appreciated if you would actually update the post, or post a correction.

    Cheers,

    Sebastian

  11. Well done Lynne. I think you should have a say in this issue. As the UK Minister for Equality you must have a say in this and put a reasoned arguement forward. Human rights is a diffcult and complex issue but if we all sit back and do nothing them this type of ignorance will prevail. There is a lot of work to do for equality it can sometimes be a thankless but sitting back and doing nothing is not an option. I have worked in equality for many years and an still surprised at the views and attitudes people have around all the equality characteristics, the only way forward is to challenge these views and help people understand the importance and impact on people’s lives. Keep up the good work Lynne.

  12. nick b says:

    Perhaps closer to your Home Office remit would be the treatment of asylum seekers by the UKBA. As I understand it, Stonewall have asked for improved education of UKBA staff on the realities of sexual/gender discrimination inside applicants’ home countries. Shouldn’t our treatment of rape victims be as sensitive wherever the rape took place? As this issue involves our fellow humans suffering rape, torture and murder often at the hands of families, isn’t early action appropriate?

  13. [...] sort of misreporting that may have gotten them out of jail – at least the new UK government seemed totally unaware that there was a transgender angle and was approaching it as purely a gay-rights [...]

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