Malawian Justice Minister Ephraim Chiume said Thursday that President Bingu wa Mutharika has ordered the Malawi Law Commission [official websites] to review several controversial laws, including a law banning homosexual acts. Chiume stated that the review was in response to public criticism [Africa Review report]. Commentators suggest that the purpose of the review of the ban on homosexual acts is to attract US aid. On Tuesday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] announced that the US would use foreign assistance, international diplomacy and political asylum to promote LGBT rights internationally [JURIST report]. In addition to the ban on homosexual acts, laws which allow the government to shut down newspapers deemed to not be serving Malawi's interests, ban suits against government officials and allow police to search areas and make arrests without providing a reason will also be reviewed.
Gay rights have been a contentious issue [Economist backgrounder] in both developed and developing nations, with more than 80 countries criminalizing homosexuality. The issue is especially prevalent in Africa where over 70 percent of countries criminalize non-traditional sexual orientation, with some charges carrying the death penalty. Last week, the Nigerian Senate passed a bill making it illegal for same-sex couples to marry [JURIST report] or for an individual to aid in the marriage of same-sex couples. The bill explicitly states that marriages entered into by persons of the same gender are prohibited and will not be recognized as valid, even if the marriage certificate is obtained in a foreign country. Last month, the Ugandan High Court [official website] sentenced a man to 30 years in prison for beating to death prominent gay rights activist [JURIST report] David Kato. Enock Nsubuga confessed to the January 2011 killing, admitting to beating Kato [Reuters report] with a hammer at his home before he died on the way to the hospital. Nsubuga claimed that he attacked Kato in response to sexual advances he made. In 2010 Mutharika pardoned [JURIST report; video] a gay couple sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of "indecent practices between males" and "unnatural offences." Although Mutharika pardoned the men based on international pressure, he nevertheless reiterated that homosexuality was "totally wrong" and against the culture and traditions of Malawi.