(See Below for Case Law, Evidence of Public Attitudes, NGOs that Assist or Advocate on LGBTI issues, and Country of Origin LGBTI Specialists)
Same-sex sexual acts are illegal in Liberia. The New Penal Law 1978 amending the Penal Code defines ‘voluntary sodomy’ as a first-degree misdemeanour, punishable by a sentence of imprisonment for up to one year, see Penal Law 1976, Article 14.74 Voluntary Sodomy. In July 2012, the Senate passed an amendment to the Domestic Relations of Liberia Bill, also known as the ‘Anti-Same-Sex Marriage Bill’, in order to expressly prohibit same-sex marriage.
Another bill currently considered by the Liberian legislature, the amendment to the New Penal Code Chapter 14, aims to expressly criminalise same-sex acts between both men and women with a sentence of imprisonment for up to five years. A 2017 report submitted by the LGBTI community for consideration at the 120th Session of the Human Rights Committee noted that there were efforts initiated in 2012 to make laws criminalizing same-sex sexual relations even more severe. Two bills introduced in 2012 by two different members of the Legislature would (a) expand the definition of criminal same-sex sexual conduct, (b) reclassify the offense as a felony rather than a misdemeanor, (c) increase the penalties for same-sex sexual conduct, and (d) explicitly criminalize same-sex marriage in Liberia. That the bill proposed by a Senator would have the effect of making the violation of the same-sex marriage prohibition a first-degree felony, punishable by a minimum of ten years in prison and a maximum penalty of death.
Although same-sex conduct is already criminalised, the Liberian legislature has been considering more repressive legislation in recent years, according to Human Rights Watch; however, the ‘bills have been lain dormant in the respective legislative houses’ according to Human Rights Watch.
Moab v Gonzales, 500 F.3d 656 (7th Cir. Sept. 13 2007): although the ruling focuses on credibility, the US Court of Appeals supported a finding that a homosexual man in Liberia faced a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of his sexual orientation, after having suffered beatings in his country of origin.
PUBLIC ATTITUDES AND/OR STATE’S CAPACITY TO PROTECT
The US State Department notes that the current law on ‘voluntary sodomy’ is rarely enforced. However, incidents of harassment and violence have been reported in the country. For example, in 2017, it is reported that there continued to be instances of arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals suspected of engaging in same-sex sexual conduct. That although there have been no reported cases of convictions under the Voluntary Sodomy provision of the Penal Code, the accused are often held in jail, without trial, for prolonged periods of time. Additionally, the police are said to have verbally and physically abused detainees and confiscated their cell phones, as well as exorting LGBT individuals while threatening to prosecute or out them to their families and the public.
Human Dignity Trust refering to a 2016 report by the US Department of State Human Rights Report on Liberia stated that in October 2016, an LGBT organisation reported that several individuals were arrested and accused of sodomy, one of whom had been arrested after reporting to the police that he had been robbed. On 12 October 2013, according to the US State Department report, two men in Monrovia were attacked by a mob on suspicion of ‘being gay’. Despite attempts to report the incident to the police, the two men continued to face threats and ultimately fled their homes.
More recent attacks on LGBTI community have been reported in 2020 to include an attack of a female who played soccer on the female team, over the radio by a presenter. This resulted in one of the officials of the Liberia Football Association putting out a statement to the effect that steps will be taken to remove all lesbians from the soccer team and the institution as a whole.
More generally, Liberian culture including country leaders remain strongly opposed to homosexuality, thereby forcing LGBTI persons to conceal their sexual identity, according to Human Dignity Trust. As Human Rights Watch explains in its 2013 report entitled It’s Nature, not a Crime, homosexuality is generally perceived as ‘un-African’ and immoral, and often imputed to Western behaviour espoused by the country’s privileged elite. Anti-gay sentiment and hostility towards LGBTI populations have been fuelled by both media and political discourse in recent years, according to Human Rights Watch.
Police complicity coupled with the existence of the law discourages LGBT victims of hate crimes from coming forward to report incidents to the police because of concerns of re-victimization and possible arrest on homosexuality-related charges notes UNDP, OHCHR (2020).
Due to little tolerance for the work that LGBT activists do, application for registration of LGBT organisations have met with rejections. One such incident was reported – In November 2016, the Trans Network of Liberia (TNOL) sought registration as a legal entity with the Liberia Business Registry but was refused. UNDP, OHCHR report of 2020 states that rejection of legal recognition and/or registration of LGBTI organisations by the Business Registry is on grounds of the names and objectives of the organizations’ being “legally unacceptable” in Liberia.
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs)
Stop AIDS in Liberia, SAIL
SAIL was founded on the 28th of September 1998, with the aims and objectives of creating HIV and AIDS awareness targeting the Youth, Sex Workers, PLWHIV as well as providing Home Based Care and Counselling for community members. In 2010, the organization expanded its scope to address issues affecting persons of diverse Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities (SOGI) and other key populations including sex workers, men who have sex with men, and drug users.
Lesbian and Gay Association of Liberia, LEGAL
LEGAL is dedicated to advocating for the wellbeing and protection of the LGBTIQ community and other discriminated groups in Liberia, for progressive social change, which is aimed at addressing the issues of oppression, discrimination, stigma, abuse, hate crime and limited access to other basic rights services, based on their sexual orientation, gender identity. LEGAL is committed to advancing, gender justice and a safe environment for its target groups in Liberia. LEGAL endeavours to promote, provide, foster and enhance access to health, education, social justice, economic empowerment, political participation, and protection for its target groups in Liberia.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN SPECIALISTS
Dr Benjamin N. Lawrance
Professor of History at the University of Arizona
Benjamin N. Lawrance is the former Conable Chair in International Studies at Rochester Institute of Technology and is currently a professor of history at the University of Arizona.He has conducted field research in West Africa since 1997 and published extensively about political and social conditions. He has served as an expert witness in the asylum cases for over 130 West Africans in the US, Europe and Canada which have involved human trafficking, citizenship, statelessness, female genital cutting, gender issues, gender identity, ethnic and religious violence, and witchcraft accusations.
Originally researched by: Minos Mouzourakis
Last Updated October 2021