GENEVA (1 March 2024) – UN experts* today urged Ghana’s President not to sign the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill 2024 into law, warning that the adoption of the discriminatory legislation would pose a serious threat to the protection of human rights in the country.

“The immediate targets of the bill are sexual and gender minorities, who are already bearing the brunt of a rise in violence and discrimination. But the implications of the law go far beyond these specific targets, tearing at the very fabric of human rights and democracy in the country,” the UN experts said.

“This law, which passed its third and final reading in parliament on 28 February, violates the substance and spirit of fundamental human rights principles and obligations,” they said.

The experts noted that among the most egregious aspects of the proposed legislation is an absolute ban on any group or organisation advocating or providing services or support to groups working on issues of non-discrimination and inclusivity on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, which could result in prison sentences of up to five years.

“This would affect a significant number of human rights defenders and organisations, as well as health service providers. It also includes an obligation to report any known violation of the law,” they said.

“The legislation sits uncomfortably with Ghana’s new role on the UN Human Rights Council and violates key aspects of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as Ghana’s own constitution, which explicitly protects freedom of speech, expression and assembly,” the experts said.

They warned that the proposed legislation would violate the right to privacy, trample on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, and disregard the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The experts recalled that sexual expression is protected expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). “While freedom of expression is not absolute, we stress that restrictions in the name of ‘public morals’ must respect the universality of human rights and non-discrimination,” they said.

They fear that the law could easily be interpreted as making it illegal to provide accommodation or transport to anyone suspected of having a non-conforming sexual or gender identity. They also noted that any public display of romantic affection by persons of the same sex could be punishable by a fine and prison sentence, as the bill does not provide any scope for what constitutes romantic affection, which could include a kiss on the cheek, holding hands, a warm look, a shared laugh between persons of the same sex.

The experts warned that if passed, the bill would negatively impact access to life-saving services, undermine social protection and jeopardise Ghana’s development gains.

“Punitive laws increase stigma and discrimination in health care settings and ultimately undermine everyone’s right to health,” they said.

The experts stressed that the law would also violate the right to housing, the right to education and the right to just and favourable conditions of work.

“If signed into law, the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill would be in fundamental contradiction with Ghana’s human rights obligations and would deal a serious blow to human rights and the rule of law,” the UN experts said.

*The experts: Tlaleng MofokengSpecial Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Mary LawlorSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion; Graeme Reid, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Cecilia Bailliet, Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity; Nicolas Levrat, Special Rapporteur on minority issues