Gay Burundi News & Reports 2004-09

Useful website for LGBT Africa: Behind the Mask

1 Two men flee muslim law enforcers 10/04

2 Burundi Refugees Suffer As AIDS Takes Toll in Botswana 8/07

3 Burundi’s last rebel group signs peace deal 9/07

4 Activists seek internal solution to new law on homosexual acts 11/08

5 Burundi: A belated start to HIV prevention for gays 12/08

6 Burundi rejects proposal to criminalise homosexual relations 2/09

7 Thousands Protest To Criminalize Being Gay In Burundi 3/09

8 Burundi Assembly Presses To Criminalize Being Gay 3/09

9 Burundi lawmakers restore bid to criminalise gays 3/09

10 Nkurunziza furious as Senate rejects anti-gay law 4/09

11 Repeal Law Criminalizing Homosexual Conduct 4/09

12 Burundi: Gays and Lesbians Face Increasing Persecution 7/09

12a Forbidden – Institutionalizing Discrimination Against Gays and Lesbians in Burundi 7/09

13 Group urges Burundi to drop new law against homosexuality 8/09

14 Doctor practices what his faith preaches 9/09 (non-gay background story)

15 President Claims Honour For Fighting Homosexuality 11/09

16 Forbidden: Gays and Lesbians in Burundi 12/09

October 18, 2004 – Behind the Mask

1 – Two Burundi men flee Muslim law enforcers

Two men in Burundi have had to flee following arrests by Muslim law enforcers who discovered the pair together in the Muslim quarter of Bujumbura. Activists in Burundi have been frantically trying to secure funds and safe passage for 2 men arrested under Muslim law in Burundi recently, when they were discovered having sex.

One of the men was imprisoned and sentenced to death by the Islamic court but was set free when activists intervened and assisted in getting him released from custody. The man has now fled to neighbouring Rwanda. The second man was kept in hiding in a Bujumbura home until he could be smuggled to the countryside where he awaits safe passage out of the country.

Activists in Burundi are putting a positive slant on the incident. “We need to appeal to government to change the laws regarding homosexuality – this is a good example of how there is a problem and why we need change.” The idea that Islamic law can be enforced regardless of national law is of great concern to activists. However, they were not without words of warning to the men also. “It was very risky and not at all wise of them to behave as they did.”

30 August 2007 – The Nation (Nairobi)

2 – Burundi Refugees Suffer As Aids Takes Toll in Botswana

by Kitsepile Nyathi, Harare
Jacques Aringeye sobs uncontrollably as he takes a glance at the lifeless body of his wasted wife in a dimly lit hut at the Dukwi Refugee Camp in northern Botswana. Mr Aringeye, 35 and his wife Antoinette who fled the civil war in Burundi in the late 90s were diagnosed with HIV/Aids in 1999 when they were expecting their first born child.

Their son only lived for one year before he succumbed to tuberculosis, which was complicated by an HIV/AIDS infection he acquired from his mother’s womb. And the family’s misery piled at the beginning of this year when Antoinette was admitted at the camp’s hospital for three months suffering from pneumonia.

She was released from hospital after the doctors said they could not do anything to improve her life as her immune system was severely weakened. Their plight is shared by hundreds of refugees at this sprawling camp where the deadly pandemic is taking its toll.

Their misfortune is that the Botswana government says it can not provide life prolonging anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy to foreigners. Attracted by its long history of peace, refugees fleeing civil strife from as far as Somalia find their way into Botswana in their thousands. ” If my wife had enrolled under the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission programme during her pregnancy maybe our son’s life could have been spared,” said Mr Aringeye holding back tears. “We see many children dying every day and most of them who are born here do not reach the age of five because they are infected with AIDS.”

President Festus Mogae’s catch phrase at the 2001 United Nations Assembly: “We are threatened with extinction. People are dying in chillingly high numbers, it is a crisis of the first magnitude,” seems to find expression at this remote camp more than anywhere else.

Sub Saharan Africa countries, hit by a devastating HIV/Aids pandemic
are stepping up prevention programmes to stop foetuses being infected and leading the initiative are countries such as Botswana, Malawi and Zambia where priority has been placed on children.

UNAIDS and the United Children’s Fund say 2.3 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are HIV-positive, most of them infected by their mothers because they did not receive drugs taken for granted in wealthy countries to prevent transmission of the virus.
Globally, an estimated 530,000 children were newly infected last year and 380,000 died of Aids, the vast majority in Africa and without treatment, half of the infected infants die before age two.

Throughout southern Africa, child mortality rates have soared because of AIDS reversing health gains from better sanitation and immunization even in relatively prosperous countries such as Botswana and South Africa.

But the situation seems more severe at this refugee camp where the numbers of people infected keeps swelling every day as some new arrivals are consigned to the centre already infected. ” We have lost hope in life,” Aringeye said. “I am just waiting for my wife to die and my only wish is that she goes first so that I can be able to bury her. ” A number of requests have been made to the Botswana government to provide us with ARVs just as it does to its citizens because we have no other home but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.”

Mr Victor Ilunga, a Namibian refugee and community leader at Dukwi camp says they bury more than five people each week at this centre of about 1,000 families. ” We are resigned to fate,” Mr Ilunga said. “The government says its hands are full. The hospital here is overwhelmed and they have no choice but to release terminally ill people to die at their homes. ” The number of orphans is swelling each day and we have a crisis on our hands.” He called on the United Nations to mobilise funds specifically for HIV/Aids programmes at refugee camps especially in Botswana where infection rates are among the highest in the world.

In Botswana, 24 per cent of adults between the ages of 15 and 49 are infected with HIVAIDS.
However, the mortality rate has been significantly slowed down by an aggressive treatment programme, which has seen a number of infected people getting access to ARVs.

The Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Mr Pandu Skelemani says the government cannot provide foreigners with free access to ARVs as it was still struggling to reach out to its own people. ” As much as the government desires to provide ARVs to refugees who have fallen victim to this pandemic but cannot do so at the moment because it is still struggling to reach out to every Botswanan due to financial constraints,” said Mr Skelemani during an address at recent World Refugee Day commemorations at Dukwi.

What compounds the problem faced by people like Mr Aringeye is that they are not allowed to seek employment while in Botswana.
” It is very difficult being a refugee because you cannot get a job and you have to rely on the little food that you are given, and although it is not enough it is better than living on the edge,” said Mr Solomon Mathe from Zimbabwe. “Issues of access to health are secondary to most of us and terminally ill people just wait to die.”

The Botswana Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) says although Botswana has long been a safe haven for refuges fleeing turmoil from other African countries it needs to do more to address challenges such as HIV/Aids. This can be done through with the involvement of United Nations agencies that deal with the pandemic, BCHR said.

7 September 2007 –

3 – Burundi’s last rebel group signs peace deal

by staff writers
The last Burundian active rebel group, a faction of the National Liberation Forces (FNL), this afternoon signed a comprehensive peace deal with the Bujumbura government at a ceremony in neighbouring Tanzania. Burundians thus hope 13 years of civil war have finally come to an end. The South African-mediated ceasefire threatened to collapse until the last moment and Pretoria’s mediator, Security Minister Charles Nqakula, still had to overcome the FNL’s last reservations yesterday.

Today, however, South African President Thabo Mbeki rapidly was flown in to Dar-es-Salaam to oversee the ceremony. In the Tanzanian capital, he was joined by his counterparts from Uganda and Tanzania Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Jakaya Kikwete. The ceasefire agreement was signed by Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza and FNL leader Agathon Rwasa. The reasons for such a high-profiled ceremony are to be found in the large efforts by East African neighbours and the Mbeki government to include the Paliphehutu-FNL rebel group in Burundi’s otherwise ample peace arrangements. Most other Burundian rebel factions already in 2000 signed a power sharing agreement that led to a limited peace and a political transition.

During the political transition, where the country’s Hutu majority gradually has been given more powers, progress became increasingly threatened by te FNL’s continued warfare, which even destabilised the suburbs of Bujumbura. Since late 2003, the Hutu nationalists of Paliphehutu-FNL have been the only Burundian faction not to sign a peace deal. The South African government has during the last six years sent top officials of high prestige to mediate in the Burundian conflict. The first high level mediator was ex-President Nelson Mandela, who has been followed by two Foreign Ministers. The last intensive five-month negotiations between the government and the FNL rebels were led by Minister Nqakula.

Details of the ceasefire agreement have not been revealed by Burundian or South African authorities. The mediators have however indicated that the demobilisation of FNL’s estimated 1,500 to 3,000 fighters and their integration into national security sources have been among the most difficult points in the negotiations. By experience, demobilisation and reintegration also becomes the most complicated issue when peace deals are to be implemented. Today, however, the agreement was celebrated as a “historic” event by its protagonists. A South African Foreign Affairs spokesman said “the signing of the agreement will herald a new dawn in the history of Burundi.” President Nkurunziza called the FNL rebels “our brothers and sisters,” while rebel leader Rwasa praised the agreement as “a decisive moment” for Burundi.

November 24, 2008 –

4 – Burundi: Government Moves to Criminalize Homosexuality; Activist Groups Express Outrage

Media Contact: Hossein Alizadeh, 212-430-6016,
New York – In an unexpected move, the National Assembly of Burundi passed a law on Friday November 21, 2008, making same-sex acts punishable by between 3 months and two years in prison, along with a substantial fine. The following day, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and the Association pour le Respect et les Droits des Homosexuels (ARDO) issued strongly worded letters to the entire membership of Burundi’s Senate, asking them to vote against the legislation, which would criminalize homosexuality for the first time in the history of the country. The Senate may vote on the bill as early as tomorrow and if it passes Burundian President Nkurunziza will likely sign it into law.

IGLHRC and ARDO also wrote to President Nkurunziza, asking him to veto the legislation should it be presented to him for his signature. Both groups encourage others to contact Burundian authorities to protest the measure. “Imprisoning people simply because of who they love offends every principle of human rights practice, which is to ensure dignity and respect for all people,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director. “This is less about sexuality and more about the visibility of a growing community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Africa refusing to be treated as dirt. These laws are meant to silence and terrorize our community and must be stopped.”

Burundi—a small country in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the south and east, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west—has been locked in an ethnically-based conflict for much of its post-independence history. A negotiated peace settlement, brokered with the assistance of a number of African states, has led to the installation of a multi-party government. The last few years have seen a certain level of reconstruction in the country, increased stability and the emergence of a nascent civil society.

The government of Burundi’s latest move comes in the context of considerable hostility to homosexuality in the region; two-thirds of African nations maintain criminal penalties for consensual same-sex behavior. In recent years several countries, including Nigeria and Uganda, have threatened to strengthen laws against homosexuality. New criminal codes in Zimbabwe broaden the definition of sodomy to include “any act that involves physical contact… that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act.” Several nations, including Burundi, have enacted legislation criminalizing same-sex marriage, though little or no advocacy to promote such marriages has taken place. These laws appear to be emerging in response to an increasingly visible, outspoken, and organized sexual rights movement.

The United Nations has condemned laws that criminalize homosexuality as being violations of the rights to privacy and equality and has called upon member states that maintain such laws to review them. Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights have condemned physical attacks on and the imprisonment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. International and local human rights defenders have expressed grave concern not only about the nature of the current legislation in Burundi, but also about the way in which it has been promulgated. “The government has moved this bill quickly and unjustly through the legislative process,” said a representative of ARDO. “The whole process has happened over the course of a weekend, with no input from civil society or general discussion about the issue of homosexuality and freedom of expression within Burundi.”

If the current legislation passes, it is likely that the country’s HIV prevention efforts will suffer. Burundi has made commendable efforts to fight HIV and AIDS during the last decade. But IGLHRC’s 2007 report on HIV and AIDS in Africa, Off the Map, demonstrates how laws that criminalize homosexuality drive communities underground, making men who have sex with men less able to access HIV-related prevention information. UNAIDS, the Global Fund and other key international institutions concur. An action alert related to this issue will be posted on IGLHRC’s website on November 25, 2008. For an update on the status of the legislation in Burundi, or to take action, visit:

November 27, 2008 – PinkNews

4 – Burundi activists seek internal solution to new law on homosexual acts

by Tony Grew
HIV groups in the African nation of Burundi have met with the country’s health minister to discuss parliamentary moves to criminalise homosexual acts.
George Kanuma of the Association National de Soutien aux Séropositifs et aux malades du Sida, who is also chair of gay rights group ARDHO (Association pour le Respect et les Droits des Homosexuels), has requested a suspension of international actions for the moment as they attempt internal solutions.

“I thank you for solidarity in this terrible period for our homosexual community,” he said in an email to supporters. There seems to be agreement from health officials and HIV activists that the move to criminalise gay sex would hamper the fight against AIDS. The National Assembly of Burundi passed a law on Friday making same-sex acts punishable by between three months and two years in prison, along with a substantial fine. The Senate may vote on the bill in the coming days.

Burundi – a small country in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the south and east, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west – has been locked in an ethnically-based conflict for much of its post-independence history. A negotiated peace settlement, brokered with the assistance of a number of African states, has led to the installation of a multi-party government. The last few years have seen a certain level of reconstruction in the country, increased stability and the emergence of a nascent civil society.

17 December 2008 –

5 – Burundi: A belated start to HIV prevention for gays

Bujumbura, 21 October 2008 (PlusNews) – When Georges Kanuma, the head of a gay rights movement in Burundi, first attended an HIV conference in 2004, he was surprised to discover that water-based lubricants, and not petroleum jelly – which breaks down the latex that condoms are made from – should be used during anal sex to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). “I had never heard of such a thing, and I know if I hadn’t heard of it, then definitely most men who have sex with men [MSM] in Burundi didn’t know about it either,” the chairman of the Association pour le Respect et les Droits des Homosexuels (ARDHO), told IRIN/PlusNews. “We had a perception that HIV was a risk for men who sleep with women, not gay men.”

Kanuma visited several health centres and NGOs working in the HIV field, but none had a stock of water-based lubricants. A few pharmacies stocked them, but the prices were prohibitively high. “It opened my eyes to the fact that we must do something, so ARDHO started knocking on doors to see who would help us source the lubricant, and which NGOs would provide prevention messages for HIV-positive people,” he said. “Many organisations didn’t believe me when I told them there were gay people in Burundi.”

Unlike many other countries in the region, the Burundian penal code does not criminalise sex between men, but the constitution outlaws gay marriage. Gay Burundians occasionally experience homophobia, but Kanuma said most Burundians were unaware that MSM even existed in their society. ARDHO has existed since 2003 but has so far failed to obtain legal status as an NGO. The Alliance Burundaise des Associations de lutte contre le SIDA, a national coalition of HIV NGOs, finally agreed to support ARDHO and helped them write funding proposals for HIV prevention activities.

“In 2007, one NGO, the Association Nationale de soutien aux Seropositifs et Sideens [ANSS], agreed to help us. They got some lubricants and condoms from donors in France, so now they deliver them to us and we give them to people in our community,” Kanuma said.Local perceptions of homosexuality mean the distribution of lubricants and condoms has to be cloak-and-dagger, with many secretly homosexual men making calls and asking for the items to be despatched in plain envelopes to offices or residences, by people not associated with ARDHO.

“We never ask people for their ethnicity or religion before we give them medication or other HIV support, so why should we ask people about their sexuality?” ANSS founder Jeanne Gapiya, a prominent national HIV activist, told IRIN/PlusNews. “The problem is that this is a hidden community, and the society is in denial about their existence.” In their latest national strategic plan, the National AIDS Control Council, CNLS, has included MSM in the list of people vulnerable to HIV. “We realise that they are a marginalised group; we have started to invite them for meetings through their NGO, but the difficulty is we don’t know who most of them are or how to reach them,” Jean Rirangira, the interim executive secretary of CNLS, told IRIN/PlusNews.

Kanuma commented: “It’s not just a problem for gay men, it’s a problem for the whole society. I know so many married [‘straight’] men in this town [the Burundian capital, Bujumbura] who sleep with gay men on the side. People would be surprised,” he said. “Silence is also what is killing us,” he added. “I had a friend who had an STI for about one year – he was self-medicating until he eventually went to ANSS and got a proper diagnosis, and then he got better much quicker.” Kanuma has been writing newspaper articles and making guest appearances on private radio stations to raise awareness about MSM and HIV. “During every radio show I allow people to call in with questions and give out ARDHO’s email address,” he said. “We have more than 150 emails and so many calls, which shows that more information is still needed.”

ARDHO is creating brochures detailing all the means of transmitting HIV, including male-male sex, for distribution in mainstream health centres; ANSS plans to send a doctor outside of Burundi for special training in the health issues of MSM to provide them with better healthcare. Although progress is slow, ARDHO and its partners are unwilling to push the government too hard, preferring to negotiate from a public health platform before demanding for equality under the law. “We need to tread carefully so we don’t make the situation worse for gays in Burundi,” Kanuma said. HIV prevalence in Burundi has been declining since the late 1990s, but many surveillance sites have recently indicated an upward trend; in May, officials announced that HIV infection had risen from 3.5 percent in 2002 to 4.2 percent in 2008.

February 17, 2009 – PinkNews

6 – Burundi rejects proposal to criminalise homosexual relations

by Staff Writer,
The Senate of Burundi today rejected a proposed amendment to the new draft of the criminal code that would have criminalised homosexual conduct for the first time.
Human rights groups had brought pressure on the government and highlighted the issue internationally.

Activists wrote to the African nation’s President and the Senate pointing out that the provision would violate the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Burundi is a party. The new criminal code was drafted over a period of nearly two years, with the assistance of Burundian and international legal experts, after elections in 2005 restored a democratic system in Burundi and required the revision of legal texts. However, in October 2008, at the end of the discussion on the bill, the Human Rights and Justice Commission in the National Assembly inserted a provision criminalising “anyone who engages in sexual relations with a person of the same sex.”

The provision would have been the first law criminalising gays and lesbians in the country’s history. The bill was approved by the National Assembly on November 22nd with little debate. On February 6th the Senate Justice Commission completed a series of amendments to the National Assembly version, but it did not amend the provision on homosexuality.

Human Rights Watch had claimed that a number of Senators told them they were personally opposed to the provision, but were wavering under pressure from certain political figures and religious groups.

March 09, 2009 –

7 – Thousands Protest To Criminalize Being Gay In Burundi

by On Top Magazine Staff
A demonstration thousands strong in Bujumbura, Burundi Friday called on lawmakers to criminalize being gay, reports AFP. It was the largest protest yet since President Pierre Nkurunziza came to power in 2005, attracting between 10,000 and 20,000 people. The protesters were angry that senators had rejected an amendment that would criminalize being gay when voting on a new draft criminal code law on February 17. In November, Burundi’s lower chamber of Parliament had voted in favor of the amendment that prescribes two years in jail for being gay.

Speaking to reporters at the event, CNDD-FDD Party Chairman Jeremie Ngendakumana said, “The CNDD-FDD is protesting today to support the [view of the] majority of Burundians that homosexuality should be punished by law. Homosexuality is a sin. It is a culture which has been imported to sully our morals and is practiced by immoral people. If we love our country, if we love our culture, we must ban this practice which will draw only misfortune for us,”.

Critics accused Nkurunziza and his CNDD-FDD Party of “manipulating” the issue in their favor by pandering to the country’s popular opposition to being gay to retain power in 2010. Anti-gay sentiment in Africa has been on the rise in recent years. Ethiopian religious leaders recently called on lawmakers to constitutionally ban being gay. In making their case, the religious leaders called being gay “the pinnacle of immorality” and blamed it for an increase in sexual attacks on boys and young men. Nigerian leaders attempted to pass a law last year that would have criminalized associating with a known gay person. Gambia’s president has called for the beheading of gay men and women. And human rights groups have condemned the harsh eight year prison sentence given to nine men in Senegal who were found guilty of being gay.

March 16, 2009 –

8 – Burundi Assembly Presses To Criminalize Being Gay

by On Top Magazine Staff
Lawmakers in Burundi are pressing ahead with a bill that criminalizes being gay in the central African country, reports AFP. The Senate rejected an amendment that criminalized being gay when voting on a new draft criminal code law on February 17. In November, the lower chamber of Parliament had voted in favor of the amendment that prescribes two years in jail for being gay. A large protest might have influenced assembly members who voted to reinstate the amendment on Friday. Last week, as many as 20,000 people took to the streets of Bujumbura, the country’s capital, angry over the Senate’s actions.
Speaking to reporters at the event, CNDD-FDD Party Chairman Jeremie Ngendakumana said, “The CNDD-FDD is protesting today to support the [view of the] majority of Burundians that homosexuality should be punished by law.”

“Homosexuality is a sin. It is a culture which has been imported to sully our morals and is practiced by immoral people. If we love our country, if we love our culture, we must ban this practice which will draw only misfortune for us,” he added.

Assembly President Pie Ntavyohanyuma said the vote on the issue was nearly unanimous. Lawmakers now need to work out a compromise between the two versions of the bill. If a compromise is unattainable, assembly members get to decide on the matter.

“We can’t retreat, or it will seem like deputies are granting the right to have homosexual relations, even homosexual marriage, in Burundi,” said Jean Minani, a member of the Assembly. Minani’s view on the issue is one held by many in Africa, where anti-gay sentiment has been on the rise in recent years. Lawmakers in Nigeria are considering passing a draconian law that would criminalize gay unions under the guise of a gay marriage ban in a country where it is already illegal to be gay. Gay marriage bans generally only define marriage as a heterosexual union, denying gay couples the benefits and obligations of the institution, but the Nigerian law would go much further. The bill calls for three years of imprisonment for gay and lesbian couples caught living together and five years for anyone who witnesses or aids the pair.

March 13, 2009 – Google

9 – Burundi lawmakers restore bid to criminalise gays

Bujumbura (AFP) — Burundi’s lower house of parliament on Friday pressed on with a bid to make homosexuality a crime punishable by jail in the central African country, rejecting a key amendment to the bill. Senators last month voted through a draft criminal code law that abolished the death penalty but they rejected an amendment that would make homosexuality punishable by a jail sentence of up to two years. The lower house National Assembly reinstated that clause to the draft on Friday.

“The amendment voted by the Senate that withdraws from the bill the penal code clause criminalising homosexuality was rejected virtually unanimously,” the president of the assembly Pie Ntavyohanyuma said after the vote. He said the lower house would work together with the Senate to strike a compromise for the president to sign. If a joint commission of the two houses cannot agree, the assembly has the final say by law.

“We can’t retreat, or it will seem like deputies are granting the right to have homosexual relations, even homosexual marriage, in Burundi,” said one member, Jean Minani.

Jean-Baptiste Manwangari, one of the few assembly members to oppose criminalising homosexual activity, said: “I am disappointed because there was no real debate.” On March 6 thousands of Burundians took part in a government-organised demonstration to protest the senate’s decision not to criminalise homosexuality. The ruling party’s chairman Jeremie Ngendakumana told reporters on that occasion that homosexuality was a “sin” and that most Burundians believed it should be punished by law.

March 28 2009 – The East African

10 – Nkurunziza furious as Senate rejects anti-gay law

by Josh Kron
Journalists are targeted, poor peasants whipped into frenzies of protests, and the roughly 400 gay people living in Burundi find themselves Target No. 1 in their own land.
For the past month or so, this tiny country long forgotten by most of the world has been in the spotlight for the one thing people may have never suspected — a mirage-legislature rising up against both the president and the allies — the missionary churches dotted throughout the country.

There are few things as unpopular in Africa as homosexuality. It is seen as a particularly virulent and sinister strain of the West’s unwelcome foray around here. To be gay is to be evil, criminal, and un-African. You can lose your family, livelihood, and sometimes your life. There just happens to be no law against it in Burundi. It hadn’t made much of a difference until one was proposed by the president and defeated by his senate. It was a blow to the president, and a temporary confidence-booster for people who live in secrecy and fear.

An article in an amendment to the national penal code that would have made homosexual acts punishable by up to two years in prison was pulled out by the Senate on February 24. It was a shock to the system in Burundi, where legislatures more often than not are rubber stamps of the head of state. President Pierre Nkurunziza took it as a slap in the face. “The president’s power is weakening,” said Pancrace Cimpaye, chairman of the opposition party and member of senate. “We must take advantage.”

Burundians are deeply religious. The church and the Word of God are transcendent. That includes President Nkurunziza, who attends the local Church on the Rock in Bujumbura. Though founded in Texas, much of the Church on the Rock operates abroad, in places like Burundi, Third World states where fates and livelihood still hinge on the mercies of nature. From Rwanda to Brazil to the Philippines, these modern-day missionaries have found converts and a powerful voice.

So, in the past weeks, the government, together with this and other churches, has gone on an all-out campaign to reverse the Senate’s decision. Just the other day, roughly 15,000 people marched in protests led by factions of the government against the senate’s decision. “If we love our country, if we love our culture, we must ban this practice that will draw only misfortune,” said the chairman of Burundi’s ruling party, Jeremie Ngendakumana. The protests were organised using radio advertisements and cellphone text messaging.

“This was a huge manipulation of the people,” said Mr Cimpaye. “It was demagogic.”

“The albinos wanted a protest last week because they are being killed. They wanted to have a demonstration, but the government refused, saying it would take away from the working day,” said an anonymous NGO worker in Bujumbura. “But when 15,000 march against gays on a working day, it’s okay.”

Being albino may be one of the unluckiest things in this part of the world, where people are hunted for their skins, sought for magical protection by bush-doctors. To be one of Burundi’s approximately 400 gays isn’t much better. “We have so many children who have been rejected by their family because of being gay or lesbian, and many of them are forced to work as sex slaves to make money,” says George Kanuma, co-ordinator for ARDHO, Burundi’s only gay advocacy group. “This law would make it all the worse for them.”

But a fighting spirit remains. “Use my name,” says Kanuma. “To see it in the newspapers is protection for us.” That’s exactly where those names have been. Since the protests, homosexuality has been on the tip of tongues of the country. Parliament, which received the amended legislation from the senate, swiftly put the article criminalising homosexuality back into place. Churches and non-governmental organisation have held press conferences, radio shows, and television programmes on the issue.

“It is political propaganda ahead of the 2010 elections,” says Christian Rumu, vice-president of Burundi’s gay association. In the National Assembly, a heated debated rages on, with opposition leaders calling for a national referendum on the issue. According to the constitution, if the two sides cannot come to agreement, it will be parliament that makes the decision. Few here believe the president will allow the law to pass without criminalising homosexuality.

As the story makes larger waves around both the region and world, the government’s forces are clamping down on journalists. Although one newspaper editor was released recently, two more journalists were arrested. “We are in danger, and must work in secret,” says a stringer in Burundi for the international press. “The government does not want reporting on the homosexuality. We are supposed to write only good things.”

April 25, 2009 – From: Human Rights Watch

11 – Burundi: Repeal Law Criminalizing Homosexual Conduct–Violates Basic Rights, Will Hamper AIDS Prevention

by Scott Long:
The Burundian government’s decision to criminalize homosexual conduct violates fundamental human rights and should be reversed immediately, Human Rights Watch and 62 other Burundian, African, and international human rights organizations said in a joint statement <http://www.hrw. org/node/ 82259> issued today. The statement came after President Pierre Nkurunziza secretly signed the legislation on April 22.

In February, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to reject a November 2008 decision by the National Assembly to criminalize same-sex relations. However, under the Burundian constitution, the National Assembly prevails in cases of conflict between the two houses of Parliament.

President Nkurunziza rejected calls by international diplomats to ask Parliament to revise the article in question. Nkurunziza had previously demonstrated his hostility to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people by making a statement on television in January that homosexuality was a “curse.” Although he signed the legislation on April 22, four high-ranking police and Ministry of Justice officials contacted by Human Rights Watch on April 24 were not yet aware that the law had been promulgated, raising questions about the procedure followed.

“Burundi has taken a disappointing step backward by legalizing discrimination, ” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “The government has fallen back on ‘custom’ and ‘culture’ to justify this repressive step – but there can be no justification for stripping some of Burundi’s people of their fundamental rights.”

While the bill was under review in Parliament, the president’s staff made calls to a number of legislators, attempting to influence their votes in favor of the measure. The president’s party, CNDD-FDD, staged a mass protest on March 12 calling for the criminalization of homosexual conduct, bussing in schoolchildren and adults from rural provinces, many of whom, according to journalists present at the event, had no understanding of what they were protesting.

The law’s Article 567, which penalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations by adults with up to two years in prison, violates the rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination. These rights are protected by Burundi’s Constitution and enshrined in its international treaty commitments, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The organizations further expressed concern that the law will hamper Burundi’s efforts to fight AIDS. The 2001 UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS recognizes that discrimination against vulnerable groups undermines public health responses to HIV/AIDS.

According to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, arrests on the basis of sexual orientation are, by definition, human rights violations. The 63 organizations pledged to monitor carefully any arrests made on the basis of the law.

“The government claims to support human rights, but has passed a law that not only violates the right to privacy, but also discriminates against a group of citizens who have been recognized as vulnerable to HIV/AIDS,” said David Nahimana, president of the Burundian human rights organization Ligue Iteka, one of the signatories to the statement. “These aspects of the Penal Code should be revised immediately. “

Burundian and international human rights organizations, including those defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons have campaigned against the criminalization of homosexual conduct in Burundi since November 2008, when the National Assembly passed a draft revision of the criminal code that would criminalize homosexual conduct for the first time in Burundi’s history.

“The state is sending the wrong message to its citizens: that they can now persecute people of a different sexual orientation, ” said Cary Alan Johnson, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). “This is a regressive and unfortunate step.”

The statement’s signatories said that the Government of Burundi should promptly repeal the provision in question, Article 567 of the Penal Code.

To read the joint statement by 63 human rights organizations, please visit

July 29, 2009 – Human Rights Watch

12 – Burundi: Gays and Lesbians Face Increasing Persecution – Community Members Speak Out Against New Law Criminalizing Homosexual Behavior

Bujumbura – An April 2009 law that criminalizes homosexual conduct threatens to exacerbate the deplorable treatment of gays and lesbians in Burundi, Human Rights Watch said in a multimedia project published today.

The project, “Forbidden: Institutionalizing Discrimination against Gays and Lesbians in Burundi,” consists of printed and online narratives, photos, and voice-recorded testimonies of Burundian gays and lesbians that bring to life the daily struggles faced by the small lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Burundi. Members of the community talk about how they have been fired from their jobs, beaten by parents and neighbourhood youth, and evicted from their homes.

The LGBT population had just begun to speak up and organize – demanding an end to discriminatory treatment in workplaces, schools, and homes – when the Burundian government struck back, adding to the criminal code in April a provision that institutionalizes such discrimination by criminalizing “sexual relations with persons of the same sex.” Individuals convicted under the new law can be sentenced to up to two years in prison.

“The government needs to listen to these voices to understand the harm it is doing to Burundians with its state-sanctioned discrimination,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should rescind this law and instead work to promote equality and understanding.”

The testimonies presented in “Forbidden,” alongside Martina Bacigalupo’s powerful photographs, give a public platform to a population in Burundi that has long been silenced.

The individuals interviewed for “Forbidden” described Burundi’s new law as a huge step backward. (Some names have been changed in the report for reasons of privacy and protection.) Cynthia, a 25-year-old waitress, told Human Rights Watch: “I was shocked when I heard about the new law against homosexuality. I want them to give us liberty. We are people like everyone else. It’s God who created us. The law won’t change us.”

Even before the law was passed, Burundian LGBT people faced significant obstacles to acceptance by society, as recounted by the 10 people interviewed for this project. Carine, for example, a 37-year-old lesbian from a small town in Burundi’s interior, describes how she lost a teaching job when her sexual orientation was discovered. She was harassed at another job by a male colleague, who on one occasion locked her in a room and threatened to kill her.

Pascal, starting when he was 5 years old, was beaten regularly by his parents, who considered him effeminate. As he said: “They thought that by beating me, they could change me.” Many of the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch, most of them young, had been kicked out of their homes or disowned by their parents.

Human Rights Watch called upon the government of Burundi to listen to the voices of Burundi’s gays and lesbians, and to urgently reform the criminal code so as to end state discrimination against this group of Burundian citizens.

July 2009 – Human Rights Watch

Forbidden – Institutionalizing Discrimination Against Gays and Lesbians in Burundi

While some “came out” to their families and friends as gay or lesbian,1 most remained “closeted” outside of the safe space provided by ARDHO, afraid of rejection or even disownment. till, they saw positive signs: as Théophile, age 26, told us, “I thought that we were in a wave of change–I had discussed my homosexuality with my friends and neighbors, and they were tolerant. When people take the time to try to understand, they become a bit more open-minded.”

Burundian LGBT people were devastated when in November 2008, the National Assembly voted in favor of adding an article to the proposed new Criminal Code that would penalize same-sex relations between consenting adults. Burundian lawyers and politicians, along with international experts, had spent two years revising the old criminal code, which dated to 1981, but the National Assembly’s human rights commission added the anti-homosexuality provision at the last minute. The commission was apparently under pressure from President Nkurunziza, who made statements on television condemning homosexuality as a “curse,” and whose offices telephoned lawmakers seeking to influence their votes. Even before the law went into effect, it had an impact on LGBT people, undermining their trust in state authorities. Several days after the Assembly vote, Nick, a young gay man in Bujumbura, told us, “Today I saw a policeman in the supermarket and he started talking to me. I suddenly looked at his uniform and remembered the new law and I was afraid. I realized he wasn’t trying to arrest me, but it made me uncomfortable in any case.”

ARDHO joined forces with international organizations dedicated to LGBT equality, AIDS activism, and human rights (including Human Rights Watch), as well as with Burundian civil society organizations, to lobby the Burundian Senate to reject the discriminatory provision. In February 2009, the Senate did so in an overwhelming 36-7 vote. But in March, the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie, CNDD-FDD), organized a mass march against homosexuality in Bujumbura. The party bussed in thousands of students and residents of rural areas to protest.

Against this backdrop, the National Assembly, to whom the Senate version was returned for approval, refused to accept the Senate’s removal of the provision against homosexual conduct. Despite appeals from figures ranging from Nobel Peace Prize-winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu to then French Minister for Human Rights Rama Yade, on April 22 President Nkurunziza promulgated the criminal code, with the provision in place.

Two days later, Human Rights Watch and 62 other Burundian and international human rights organizations issued a joint statement calling for the provision–article 567 of the new Criminal Code–to be removed. The article provides for up to two years in prison for “whoever engages in sexual relations with a person of the same sex.” The organizations stated that the law violates the rights to privacy and to non-discrimination enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They also expressed concern that the law would hamper Burundi’s efforts to fight AIDS.

From November 2008, when the National Assembly first passed the discriminatory law, through May 2009, shortly after the criminal code was promulgated, Human Rights Watch carried out in-depth interviews with 16 members of Burundi’s LGBT community, all of them young people between 17 and 37. We spoke to them about their childhoods, about when and how they first realized they were gay or lesbian, and about how this identity affected their lives. They told us heartbreaking stories of being beaten by parents, chased out of their family homes, threatened by police officers, silenced in school, and subjected to sexual violence. The abuses and discrimination they endured, for which they felt they had no protection from the state, made them second-class citizens in Burundi long before the passage of article 567.

But their narratives also contained kernels of hope. Mike, who dreams of going into politics one day, participated in a school debate on homosexuality; as he looked around the classroom, one student after another gradually raised their hands to say they supported gay rights. Anneyoncé fought depression by writing songs. Cynthia, briefly kicked out by her father for speaking out on the radio about gay rights, was first taken in by an understanding boss and then accepted back home after other relatives convinced her father to accept her. Pascal, a biology student, found his calling in teaching workshops on protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases for men who have sex with men. Yves, after learning he was HIV positive, drew strength from other members of the LGBT association, who didn’t judge him for his HIV status.

Human Rights Watch teamed up with photographer Martina Bacigalupo to create portraits of ten of these young people, many of whom feel that their very identities have been rendered criminal by Burundi’s new law. In these pages, we allow them to speak for themselves. We hope that others will draw lessons from these narratives and will work to restore the rights of people like Mike, Anneyoncé, Cynthia, Pascal, and Yves.

Read Entire Article Here

August 3, 2009 – CNN

13 – Group urges Burundi to drop new law against homosexuality

(CNN) – A human rights group urged Burundi to reverse a law that makes homosexuality illegal, saying it risks worsening the harsh treatment of gays in the eastern Africa nation. The new law makes “sexual relations with persons of the same sex” illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison, Human Rights Watch said in a recently released report. It was enacted just as the gay, lesbian and transgender community had started to mobilize and call for equal treatment, according to the organization.

“The government needs to listen to these voices to understand the harm it is doing to Burundians with its state-sanctioned discrimination,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “The government should rescind this law and instead work to promote equality and understanding.” Before the law, which was passed in April, some gays and lesbians already faced significant discrimination in Burundi, according to the organization. Some had lost their jobs, others were beaten by parents and local youths, and others were evicted, according to the Human Rights Watch report, which cited accounts by the victims.

Numerous attempts to reach government officials were unsuccessful.

Homosexuality is illegal in most countries in the region, including in nearby Kenya and Uganda, where sodomy laws were introduced during colonialism. Most African nations have revised those laws to include consensual sex among gay and lesbian couples and made the punishments tougher, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Half the world’s countries that criminalize homosexual conduct do so because they cling to Victorian morality and colonial laws,” said Scott Long, director of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program for Human Rights Watch. “Getting rid of these unjust remnants of the British empire is long overdue.” The role religion plays in Africa has a lot to do with the ban, others say.

“It is wrong from a biblical standpoint, and most African countries are governed based on religious beliefs,” said Olatunde Ogunyemi, a professor in Grambling, Louisiana. “Christianity and Islam are the dominant religions in the continent, and in some cases, constitutions are based on religion, which justifies making it illegal.”

South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution bans discrimination against gays — the first in Africa to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Homosexuality is also illegal in other countries, including Ghana, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, according to Human Rights Watch.

September 21, 2009 – The Los Angeles Times

Doctor practices what his faith preaches

Cedars-Sinai cardiologist Dr. Lawrence Czer makes regular trips to Africa with his Christian church to help the needy by providing free medical care.

by Carla Hall
On his medical missions to Africa, Dr. Lawrence Czer has dealt with poverty, lack of electricity, bad accommodations — and military checkpoints. In Sierra Leone, Czer and his team were sometimes stopped by rifle-toting soldiers who simply wouldn’t let them through.

“They’ll just have you stand there and you’ll see other people going through,” Czer said. The medical team refused to give the soldiers any money. All they could do was try to cajole them. “Or shame them,” the doctor said. “We tell them, ‘Listen, we’re giving free medical care to your people. Now, what are you doing holding us up from doing that?’ ” It worked. For more than a decade, Czer, an otherwise genteel, soft-spoken cardiologist, has been a key part of the medical teams organized and sent by his church, the Lighthouse Church of Santa Monica, to some of the poorest, most war-ravaged countries in Africa. The trips, which began with a mission to Gambia in 1998, are now made at least twice a year.

The heart is the doctor’s specialty. Czer, pronounced like “Caesar,” is medical director of the heart transplant program at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. But in Africa, he functions more like an overburdened general practitioner, seeing up to 100 people a day with maladies that include broken bones, malaria, parasites, serious burns and high blood pressure. Czer was raised Catholic in the San Fernando Valley and educated by nuns and brothers. As an adult he joined the Protestant evangelical Lighthouse Church, an outpost of the Foursquare denomination. He and his wife were drawn to the church’s search for a “practical Christianity,” he said. And that is what motivates him to make the trips to Africa.

“We don’t stay in great hotels. We’re with the people. We don’t exclude anybody. We see the poorest of the poor. We lay hands on people. We touch people. We tell them we love them,” he said. “We think that’s what, probably, Jesus would do if he were walking the earth at this point.”

In addition to Gambia and Sierra Leone, the church’s medical expeditions have traveled to Burundi, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The fall mission next month — which Czer will probably not be on — travels back to Gambia. The church’s bigger spring trip is often to Sierra Leone, where medical team members have set up their temporary clinics in several towns. Beyond medical services, the church has provided expertise and raised funds to build schools, churches and water projects.

The medical teams make it a point to revisit communities. “We like to know the people, establish relationships, get to know the country,” said Czer, 58, sitting in his small office at Cedars. His desk is stacked with papers. Nearby is a framed photo of his seven children, all wearing airy white. His older children, as well as his wife, Kari, a kindergarten teacher, have at times accompanied him on his trips.

“Lawrence is the most understated guy you will ever meet,” said Robert Hamilton, a Santa Monica pediatrician, fellow Lighthouse Church member and medical coordinator of the Africa visits. Czer is the counterpart, for adult patients, to Hamilton and other pediatricians on the trips, where often half those served are children. “He’s so good at African medicine,” Hamilton said. “He provides a tremendous ballast for the trips.”

The church missions focus on places where medical help is most needed. Hamilton called the needs of post-war Sierra Leone “mind boggling.” “When you go to Africa, you kind of grow up in some ways: ‘Oh, this is what the world is like,’ ” said Hamilton, 56. But they also specifically choose places where there are Christian churches to help the teams set up, explain the lay of the land and advise on potential dangers.

Many of the people in the countries they visit are Muslims or followers of traditional African religions. That stops the medical missionaries neither from treating them nor from teaching them about Christianity — though not necessarily simultaneously. “What we’re trying to do is demonstrate Christianity,” said Czer. “We’re not actively proselytizing. Our job is to bring dignity — and let the local pastor do the rest.”

Rob Scribner, the pastor of Czer’s church, generally does not go along on the medical missions but makes trips at other times, during which he preaches to all comers. When he asks people if they want to be prayed for, they often readily agree, no matter their religion, he says. “They have so little, they have nothing. They’re thinking ‘Am I going to eat?’ We’ve been sending rice for years to our churches so we could feed people,” Scribner said.

Hamilton estimates that each mission costs about $35,000 in medications. The participants, who volunteer their time, generally pay for their own airfare and lodging. The church picks up the cost of medicines and supplies, holding fundraisers to help. A recently opened thrift store (at 1727 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica) provides some funds as well. As a young couple, Czer and his wife, Kari, who was raised Greek Orthodox, “were seeking a better way to see what God was saying,” he said. He tried her religion but “I just could not understand the liturgy,” he said.

Now married 30 years, the couple found in the Lighthouse Church more emphasis on reading the Bible and less on the “ritual and the big buildings” of their previous churches, Czer said. He misses some of those rituals. But Czer said of the Lighthouse Church, “For what we were going through at the time, it really addressed our needs.” They joined the church more than 20 years ago.

“I wouldn’t be doing this, probably, if it weren’t for reading the Bible and trying to understand what God wants us to do,” Czer said of his medical forays to Africa. “I wouldn’t have that depth of understanding.”

November 27, 2009 – Behind the Mask

President Claims Honour For Fighting Homosexuality

by Jerina Messie (BTM French Reporter)
Burundi – Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, has stirred controversy by stating that one of the reasons he received the Assisi Pax Prize, awarded each year to people who are promoting peace in the world, was because of his success in fighting homosexuality in the country. Nkurunziza made this statement on 18 November in a radio and televised speech shortly after his return from Italy where the International Assisi Pax Association, a Catholic, peace promoting organisation, granted him the award.

“We received this prize because we have improved our Penal Code, in particular by saying no, to conditions that are against the values of the country such as people who have sex with same sex partners. We are proud to have fought those practices”, he said. Outraged human rights defenders in that country said the president’s speech will further jeopardize living conditions of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. “Clearly this statement will strengthen discrimination against our community in the media. The population and police forces will keep on insulting, arresting and extorting money from homosexuals”, Georges Kanuma, a Burundian human rights defender said.

According to Theophile Habonimana, another human rights defender in Burundi, Nkurunziza’s statement was “simply uncalled for.” “This intervention is quite misplaced because the government has committed to international laws that protect human rights”, Habonimana said. However these human rights defenders have sworn that neither the president nor the anti homosexuality law will stop them from fighting for the rights of LGBTI people in Burundi.

“I don’t think that the president can succeed in fighting homosexuality, he cannot defeat my willpower to fight for my rights and the rights of the LGBTI community in general”, Habonimana said.

Kanuma also insisted, “The president cannot succeed in fighting homosexuality and in any case no one can do it in the world. It amounts to condemning our brothers, sisters, neighbors and parents. As citizens who have a sexual orientation naturally different, we are determined to fight for our rights.”

In his unpopular statement Nkurunziza pointed out that the award was also a result of having abolished death penalty in Burundi. Burundi officially passed the law criminalising homosexuality in April this year when the National Assembly went against the Senate’s rejection of the Bill. Outlawing homosexuality was largely condemned by the international community and key donor countries.

December 2009 – Human Rights Watch

Forbidden: Gays and Lesbians in Burundi

View Photos Page HERE