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Africa
Mar 23 2012 1:42PM
 
Liberia's Sirleaf defends gay stance amid controversy
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Picture: Getty Images
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Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Laureate, on Friday defended her country's stand on gay rights after controversy following an interview she gave to a British newspaper.

Sirleaf came under fire after the Guardian published a video interview in which she is asked about decriminalising homosexuality and replies: "We like ourselves the way we are."

Looking uncomfortable at the line of questioning, Sirleaf goes on to say she would not sign any law whatsoever relating to homosexuality. "We've got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve," she says.

Liberia's main economic partner the United States said in December it would consider gay rights when handing out aid, which infuriated deeply traditional African countries, many of whom consider homosexuality "un-African".

"I think if there were major pieces of legislation that discriminated against any group, we would have to take that into account in our relationship, and it would be a cause for concern," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday in response to the video.

In a letter to the Guardian seen by AFP Friday, the Liberian government said there were no anti-gay laws "and as such the president could not be defending a law on homosexuality."

Voluntary sodomy is a criminal offence in the West African country and can result in up to three years imprisonment, according to a lawyer consulted by AFP.

However this year two new laws were introduced by lawmakers in a bid to toughen the punishment, including one which would make it a first-degree felony.

"What the president is on record as saying is that any law brought before her regarding homosexuality will be vetoed. This statement also applies to an initial attempt by two members of the Liberian legislature to introduce tougher laws targeting homosexuality," the letter said.

It added that the government believed current legislation was sufficient. "The reality is that the status quo in Liberia has been one of tolerance and no one has ever been prosecuted under that law.

"The president also thinks that with the unprecedented freedom of speech and expression Liberia enjoys today, our budding democracy will be strong enough to accommodate new ideas and debate both their value and Liberia's laws with openness, respect and independence."  -AFP

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