Human Rights

LGBT Human Rights in Ethiopia

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Ethiopia face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in the country. According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 97 percent of Ethiopia residents believe that homosexuality is a way of life that society should not accept, which was the second-highest rate of non-acceptance in the 45 countries surveyed.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity

Under Article 629 of the criminal Code, both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Ethiopia. “Whoever performs with another person of the same sex a homosexual act, or any other indecent act, is punishable….” According to Article 630, the punishment is simple imprisonment for not less than one year, or, in certain grave or other cases, rigorous imprisonment not exceeding fifteen years.

A homosexual act is never considered a victim less crime in Ethiopian law; rather, the wording of the penal code recognizes that it is an act of an aggressor against a victim. Consequently, the offense of the aggressor is considered aggravated, when it results in the suicide of the victim.

Conservative attitudes around sex and sexuality remain prevalent in Ethiopia, with many Ethiopians believing that homosexuality is simply a choice and not innate. Arguments are made of it being an import from the West and that Ethiopian society should not accept it as a legitimate orientation. A 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project found 97% of Ethiopian residents said that homosexuality should be rejected by society. This was the second-highest percentage among the countries surveyed, exceeded only by Mali.

In December 2008, nearly a dozen Ethiopian religious figures (including the leader of Ethiopian Muslims and the heads of the Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic churches) adopted a resolution against homosexuality, urging Ethiopian lawmakers to endorse a ban on homosexual activity in the constitution. This included Ethiopian Catholic Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, and the Anglican Bishop, Andrew Proud.

They also blamed homosexuality for the rise in sexual attacks on children and young men.  Abune Paulos, the late patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, said, “This is something very strange in Ethiopia, the land of the Bible that condemns this very strongly. For people to act in this manner they have to be dumb, stupid like animals. We strongly condemn this behaviour. They (homosexuals) have to be disciplined and their acts discriminated, they have to be given a lesson.”

Dr Seyoum Antoniyos, President of United for Life and influential activist organised a national conference in 2013 attended by politicians ad religious leaders. He promotes the opinion that homosexuality is not a human rights issue but rather the result of a “deep psychological problem”, often caused by abuse or some form of “social crisis”.

In December 2008, the first national anti-homosexuality conference in Ethiopia organized by a local NGO United for Life Ethiopia held at UN Convention Centre in Addis Ababa, nearly a dozen religious figures, including heads of Ethiopia’s Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, formed a national anti-homosexuality task force called Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality (EICAH) and adopted a resolution against homosexuality, which they termed as “the pinnacle of immorality.”

They also blamed homosexuality for the rise in sexual attacks on children and young men and urged lawmakers for constitutional ban and to amend the country’s constitution to ban homosexuality in a move they argue could further strengthen existing codes.

“For people to act in this manner they have to be dumb, stupid like animals,” he told reporters. “We strongly condemn this behavior. They (homosexuals) have to be disciplined and their acts discriminated, they have to be given a lesson.”

The late Abune Paolos, the patriarch of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church.

“Here we don’t believe that it is and we don’t believe that it is related to creation — it has no biological base, It is unacceptable, it is immoral. Every religious leader said in one voice that it is the pinnacle of immorality,”

Sium Antonios, head of local NGO United for Life Ethiopia

Henok Ghebrehiwot, Director of Bethseda Restoration Ministry, which is one of Exodus Global Alliance funded ministries in Ethiopia, looks at trends and figures concerning the homosexual population in Africa. He proposes that Africa take a lead in ethics, truth and grace in Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town 2010 Congress.

In early December 2011, a day ahead of the 16th International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa (ICASA) which Ethiopia hosted, key leaders of Ethiopia’s four religious groups; the Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim and the evangelicals called for a press conference at the Norwegian Church Aid office to denounce the purported ‘gay meetings’ before the timely intervention of the Ethiopian health minister.

The religious leaders wrote a letter to the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to stop the conference which they described as “against our culture and public outrage has erupted over the pre-conference event by the African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR), a continental gay rights lobby group.

Ethiopians at home and abroad have joined forces using phone text messages and Facebook, to disseminate messages against the conference and a local newspaper blamed the local LGBT groups for promoting  and spreading homosexuality in Ethiopia, and local LGBTI activists who participated at the AMSHER conference received a lot of death threat and violence.

In 9th of June 2012 the second national conference entitled ‘Homosexuality and its associated social disastrous consequences’ held in the newly built African Union headquarters, in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Similarly the conference was organized and sponsored by Dr Seyoum Antonius, president of United for Life, a non-governmental organization which describes itself as Christian, pro-life and backing the sanctity of marriage. Over 2,000 participants attended the conference, including the main religious leaders of Ethiopia, government officials, members of the Ethiopian Parliament, leaders of political parties, youth organizations and representatives from other civil societies.

Abune Paulos, the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church said: ‘Ethiopians do not need their identity to be dictated for them from outside no matter how wealthy or powerful the forces applying the pressure were.’

He also read a statement of an interfaith grouping of Ethiopia’s religious leaders condemning homosexuality as an unnatural and calling on international bodies to stop attempting to ‘subvert’ Ethiopian traditions.

The same week, popular Ethiopian daily alleges the United States and Europe are plotting to export, spread and promote homosexuality in Ethiopia and alleged that gays have an average of 75 sexual partners a year, and their ‘promiscuous’ nature propels some to have seven to nine sexual partners a day which makes gays the main transmitters of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia.

In January of this year, Campus Crusade For Christ sponsored a conference called Pamoja 3, bringing together more than two thousand African students and young professionals in Lagos, Nigeria, as part of their mission to evangelize Africa. Featured speaker Dr. Seyoum Antonios, the head of United For Life Ethiopia, and who is the ringleader of a movement seeking to legislate the death penalty for homosexuality in that Ethiopia, spread false, fear-mongering rhetoric about LGBT people, incited the crowd to a frenzy, shouting multiple times that “Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!

Far from being a fringe event, the conference was led by two high-ranking vice presidents in the Campus Crusade international,an organization which is an American organization that is currently on 1,600 college campuses, with extensive outreach within the U.S. military too, and an annual budget of more than $500 million dollar.

Campus Crusade international has a very active nationwide ministry in Ethiopia called Great Commission Ministry Ethiopia which is an interdenominational ministry which is widely sharing a gospel and homophobic propaganda in Universities, campus and other institutions in Ethiopia.

In May 2013, United For Life Ethiopia, held a workshop to discuss the social “evils” and “disastrous” effects of homosexuality in the country which was attended by government officials, religious leaders, health professionals, charities and members of the public. At the conference,a member of the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality (EICAH), who apparently told participants homosexuality “is a result of inappropriate upbringing, identity crisis and moral decay.”

It adds: “At the conclusion of the workshop, the EICAH representative stated that the council is ‘making progress’ in convincing the government to be stricter on homosexuality and introduce the death penalty to punish ‘such acts’.”

Another Ethiopian Orthodox religious group released a film, entitled ‘No silence- about the 666 satanic act of homosexuality in Ethiopia , documents’ testimonials of men who have been ‘cured’ of their homosexuality (ex-gay), who said ‘they practiced sex from the age of 7 to 32 years-old.’ ‘Ex-gays’ are said to explain on video their ‘tactics’, dress code, and ‘confess’ to spreading the ‘dirty western culture of homosexuality in Ethiopia.’

Following the release of this documentary, An influential Ethiopian paper published an article saying homosexuality, equated with child rape, is disease spreading throughout the country, as well as announcing a new documentary film about the ‘satanic issue’

Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Ethiopia

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by imprisonment under the law. There is no law prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals. There were some reports of violence against LGBT individuals; reporting was limited due to fear of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation of abuses against LGBT persons. Persons did not identify themselves as LGBT persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity. Activists in the LGBT community stated they were followed and at times feared for their safety. There were periodic detentions of some in the LGBT community, combined with interrogation and alleged physical abuse.

The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, most of whom were male, requested assistance in changing their behavior to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.


Read the full US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Ethiopian Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013

Ethiopian Government Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Health for LGBT peoples

Human Rights and Health

What is the Human Right to Health?

Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, without discrimination of any kind. Enjoyment of the human right to health is vital to all aspects of a person’s life and well-being, and is crucial to the realization of many other fundamental human rights and freedoms.

The Human Rights at Issue

Human Rights relating to health are set out in basic human rights treaties and include:

The human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including reproductive and sexual health.

The human right to equal access to adequate health care and health-related services, regardless of sex, race, or other status.

The human right to equitable distribution of food.

The human right to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The human right to an adequate standard of living and adequate housing.

The human right to a safe and healthy environment.

The human right to a safe and healthy workplace, and to adequate protection for pregnant women in work proven to be harmful to them.

The human right to freedom from discrimination and discriminatory social practices, including female genital mutilation, prenatal gender selection, and female infanticide.

The human right to education and access to information relating to health, including reproductive health and family planning to enable couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly all matters of reproduction and sexuality.

The human right of the child to an environment appropriate for physical and mental development.

Governments’ Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Health

What provisions of human rights law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Health?

Includes excerpts from the

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for … health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and the right to security in the event of … sickness, disability…. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance….”–Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25

“The States Parties … recognize the right of everyone to … just and favourable conditions of work which ensure … safe and healthy working conditions….; … the right to … an adequate standard of living …; the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The steps to be taken … to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for: … the reduction of … infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child; the improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene; the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases; the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.”–International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 7, 11, and 12

“States Parties shall … ensure to [women] … access to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning…. States Parties shall … eliminate discrimination against women in … health care … to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning….; ensure … appropriate services in connection with pregnancy…. States Parties shall … ensure … that [women in rural areas] … have access to adequate health care facilities, including information counselling and services in family planning….”–Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 10, 12, and 14

“States Parties undertake to … eliminate racial discrimination … and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, … the right to public health, medical care, social security and social services….”–Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5

“States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health….”–Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 24

Government Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Health

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Health?

Includes commitments made at:


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