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761 is not just a number

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The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) organised the third edition of Human Rights, Sexuality and The Law symposium in commemoration of the 2017 international Human Rights Day. Apart from the open dialogue on sexuality and gender which the platform has created, human rights violations based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity expression in Nigeria is presented through this platform for public awareness.

The statistic presents facts and figure on the impact of discriminatory laws and policies targeted at sexual minorities in Nigeria. The records in the last three years has shown that human rights violations based on sexuality and gender exists and continues to increase with validation from Nigeria police force and other government agencies. Till date, record shows that 282 individuals in 2015 and 232 individuals in 2016 reported violations of their rights and which were perpetrated by state and non-state actors. This means 514 persons’ rights were violated between 2015 and 2016. While we can look at the statistic as a figure, it’s important to remind ourselves that these are human beings with real life stories that capture the impact of discriminatory laws and policies in Nigeria.

This December, TIERs presented the 2017 human rights violations reports with 247 persons reporting human rights violation. The report covered documentation from twenty states and documented by TIERs in partnership with seven organizations working on sexual health and rights. With the statistics presented in the last three years, 761 persons have reported human rights violation related to their sexuality and gender identity. According to violations report collated in 2017, the highest violation report came from River, Lagos and Enugu State while Ebonyi, Jigawa and Ondo State had the lowest report. The low or lack of report in some states can be attributed to the social stigma and prejudices associated with sexual orientation and gender identity.

Examples of some of the cases reported this year includes; 1) police extortion in Port Harcourt where an effeminate man was targeted by the Nigeria police and accused of being gay just because he looks effeminate. He was accused of not looking or acting like a man and for this reason, he must be gay. Due to the harassment and fear of being arrested, the young man had to negotiate with the police before they could let him go; 2) In Lagos, we received reports of how some staff of the Nigeria police in connection with other individuals registered on social media site specific to gay men, with the intention of extorting money and other personal valuables from them. For most of the men arrested through the social media site, many have had to part with money between NGN35,000 to NGN200,000 and their mobile phones as a way of not having to be brutalised or embarrassed by the police who leverages on social stigma attached to sexuality and existing laws which make LGBT vulnerable to such inhumane treatment. In the last three years, records have shown that men who are considered effeminate and women who are considered masculine are subject to more brutal treatment from communities, at work, by Nigeria police and others places. The cases reported by LGBT persons this year reflects the urgent need on why we must increase discussion and education on human rights for minorities at large, especially within the Nigeria police force and other government force agencies.

Nevertheless, we should be worried and deeply concerned that 761 persons has experienced human rights violations because of how we see them or who they love. We have created a country that has normalised violence toward something we perceived as different from the norm. The concept of human rights need to move beyond personal religious and cultural views of individuals, we need to move toward a more peaceful and respectful society that understand difference, respect difference and teach respect of difference. I do not believe in tolerating people, I actually do not want to be tolerated, I want you to respect my being and understand that my being is way more than your personal opinion of what is right or wrong.

While we carry on with our argument on sexuality and gender and if this is right or wrong, we can at least not pretend about the violence experienced by these 761 persons because of how they look and who they love. The violations of the 761 persons is equally important just as any human rights violations in Nigeria and across the world. Our religious and personal value should not serve as the basis to decide which human rights abuse we support or not. Our support toward human rights should be based on the principle that everyone is human first and everyone deserves equal treatment and respect from government and fellow citizens.


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