In Sierra Leone, male homosexuality is constitutionally prohibited. The ban is based on a law that was introduced in 1861 during the time of the British colonial power in Sierra Leone. According to the law, homosexuality among men is punishable with a prison sentence of ten years. At the same time, the country's 1991 constitution explicitly states that "every person in Sierra Leone is entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual, regardless of race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, color, creed or gender, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and the public interest" (Chapter 3, Section 14).1

The fact that the law from the colonial era has not yet been abolished is due to the firmly established traditional norms in the majority of the population: According to these norms, homosexual men are discriminated against - same-sex sexuality is therefore not lived out freely but kept secret. Many politicians take the increasing international pressure, especially from the United Nations, on the country as an opportunity to criticize the Western influence on West African culture.2

According to a report from the US Embassy, there are no official movements or organizations in Sierra Leone that are working for or against homosexuality. Homosexuals suffer above all from health disadvantages: They are not treated or do not even dare to name an AIDS-related illness, for example, for fear of repression. However, the "First Report on Violence against LGBT* in Sierra Leone" emphasizes the positive development of the National AIDS Secretariat (NAS), because the acute support of homosexuals by the NAS shows progress, at least in the health sector.3

The report of the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights listed Sierra Leone in 2011 as one of 76 countries in the world where people are discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation according to current legislation - despite the fact that the country has signed the "United Nations Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" adopted in 2008 and the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights".4 In April 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee called on Sierra Leone to revise its constitution in the context of compliance with the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights": same-sex relations should be legalized and violence and social rejection of homosexuals should be curbed by effective means. In 2016, four states called on Sierra Leone, as part of the periodic review process of the UN Human Rights Council, to remove the constitutional basis of 1861 and to take action against discrimination.5

That the constitutional legalization of homosexuality in Sierra Leone is not in the public interest is shown by the reactions to the first same-sex marriage: in 2017 two men were allowed to marry under the leadership of then President Ernest Koroma. However, the website "The Republican News", referring to the movement "Unity, Freedom and Justice Movement for a better Salone", explains that this was done against the background of financial pressure to act. According to the report, the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs alone is said to have received ten million US dollars from supporters of homosexual rights from San Francisco. The public, on the other hand, was outraged and demanded that the parliament reverse the marriage.6

In 2019, the ban on homosexuality still exists in Sierra Leone.

1 Verfassung von Sierra Leone, 1991
2 A world survey of sexual orientation laws: Criminalisation, protection and recognition
3 Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
4 Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, … P. 40-41.
5 A world survey of sexual orientation laws: Criminalisation, protection and recognition
6 President Ernest Koroma Approves First Homosexual Marriage In Sierra Leone

Text: Natalie Meyer