Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Nobel peace prize winner defends law criminalising homosexuality in Liberia

Click here to watch the video of Tony Blair discussing anti-gay law with Liberia's president.

The Nobel peace prize winner and president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has defended a law that criminalises homosexual acts, saying: "We like ourselves just the way we are."

In a joint interview with Tony Blair, who was left looking visibly uncomfortable by her remarks, Sirleaf told the Guardian: "We've got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve."

Liberian legislation classes "voluntary sodomy" as a misdemeanour punishable by up to one year in prison, but two new bills have been proposed that would target homosexuality with much tougher sentences. The normally charismatic and eloquent Nobel laureate, when questioned, was brusque, "I won't sign any law that has to do with that area. None whatsoever," she said impatiently.

Blair, on a visit to Liberia in his capacity as the founder of the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), a charity that aims to strengthen African governments, refused to comment on Sirleaf's remarks.

When asked whether good governance and human rights went hand in hand, the British former prime minister said: "I'm not giving you an answer on it."

"One of the advantages of doing what I do now is I can choose the issues I get into and the issues I don't. For us, the priorities are around power, roads, jobs delivery," he said.

Over his 10 years as prime minister, Blair became a champion for the legal equality of gay people, pushing through laws on civil partnerships, lifting a ban on gay people in the armed forces and lowering the age of consent for gay people to 16.

A Catholic convert, he called on the pope to rethink his "entrenched" views and offer equal rights to gay people. But gay rights, he said, were not something he was prepared to get involved in as an adviser to African leaders.

With Sirleaf sitting to his left, Blair refused to give any advice on gay rights reforms. He let out a stifled chuckle after Sirleaf interrupted him to make it clear that Blair and his staff were only allowed to do what she said they could. "AGI Liberia has specific terms of reference … that's all we require of them," she said, crossing her arms and leaning back.

To read the full article please visit the Guardian website