United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged African leaders to respect the rights of their gay and lesbian citizens. Some African nations have treated gays like "second-class citizens or even criminals", the UN chief declared Sunday at the opening of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"Let me mention one form of discrimination that has been ignored or even sanctioned by many states for far too long, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This has prompted some governments to treat people as second-class citizens, or even criminals. Confronting this discrimination is a challenge. But we must live up to the ideas of the Universal Declaration. ... The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a promise to all people in all places at all times."
Same-sex acts are currently illegal in at least 38 of 54 African countries. Four nations—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—boast the death penalty for gays or same-sex activity. South Africa and Seychelles are the only African nations that protect LGBT rights. South Africa is also the only African nation to guarantee marriage equality.
In recent months both the United States and the United Kingdom have warned they would use foreign aid to push for decriminalization of same-sex relations across the socially conservative continent. Africa boasts two-thirds of the world's HIV/AIDS cases. Many experts believe the prohibitions against homosexuality discourage many HIV positive gay African men from seeking treatment.
The African Union summit opens as tensions and violence are escalating across the continent. Nigeria has been rocked by terrorism and sectarian violence that has killed hundreds. The growing tension between Sudan and South Sudan and the war in Somalia are also expected to be major discussion points.