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Sep 12, 2007 News: Activists Call for Action to Support Gay People in Nicaragua
By Sven Rabatzky

(Nicaragua) - Human rights groups across the world have called for action to remind the government and the parliament of Nicaragua of their obligations to respect inalienable rights of Gay people. Amnesty International has declared 13 September 2007 the worldwide day of action to remove the article 204 of the Nicaraguan Penal Code, which reads: "Anyone who induces, promotes, propagandizes or practices in scandalous form sexual inter-course between persons of the same sex commits the crime of sodomy and shall incur 1 to 3 years’ imprison-ment". Gay organizations and individuals are urged to write letters to Nicaragua embassies and stage protest demonstrations.

In spite of positive initiatives across the Americas, Nicaragua continues to criminalise consensual same-sex sexual relations.

On 11 June 1992 the Nicaraguan National Assembly approved a number of amendments to the Penal Code regarding sexual offences. Article 204 of the Penal Code, in its amended version, established the crime of "sodomy". The new law came into force in September 1992.

In November 1992 a coalition, known as the Campaign for Sexuality without Prejudices, comprising, amongst others, lawyers and Gay activists, presented an appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice, challenging the law as unconstitutional. The appeal presented detailed arguments stating that Article 204 of the revised Penal Code violated 12 articles of the Nicaraguan constitution, including the right to privacy, to freedom of expression and to non-discrimination before the law. It also argued that by violating these rights, Article 204 contravened international human rights standards. In March 1994, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal, concluding that Article 204 did not violate any of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

Although to Amnesty International’s knowledge no one has to date been prosecuted under Article 204 of the Nicaraguan Penal Code, it potentially criminalizes Gay women and men as well as Bisexuals in same-sex relationships. Its text is vague enough to permit the prosecution of individuals for activities such as campaigning for LGBT rights or of anyone providing sexual health information or services. Amnesty International will consider anyone imprisoned under this law to be a prisoner of conscience.

According to Amnesty's press-release, reports in the media and from human rights activists in Nicaragua indicate that former President Enrique Bolaños has allegedly ordered that a list of all members of his government "suspected" of being part of the "Gay-Lesbian world" be compiled so that he can dismiss them before leaving office in January 2007 following the November 2006 election. Amnesty International believes that such high-level homophobia gives official sanction to acts of violence committed against Gay people.

Amnesty International considers the use of "sodomy" laws to imprison individuals for same-sex relations in private is a grave violation of human rights. Article 204 contradicts numerous provisions in international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Nicaragua acceded without reservations in 1980, protects the rights to freedom of expression (article 19), freedom from arbitrary interference with the right to privacy (article 17) and freedom of conscience (article 18). It affirms the equality of all people before the law and the right to freedom from discrimination (articles 2 and 26). In the landmark 1994 case of Toonen v Australia, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors states’ compliance with the ICCPR, held that sexual orientation should be understood to be a status protected from discrimination under these articles. States cannot limit the enjoyment of human rights on the basis of sexual orientation. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has since urged states not only to repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality but also to enshrine the prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation into their constitutions or into other fundamental laws. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is also prohibited under other international human rights treaties to which Nicaragua is a state party.

Amnesty recommends organizations and individuals to send letters:

• Stating that the majority of countries in the Americas region have decriminalised homosexuality;
• Reminding the authorities that all people are equal before the law and that they are obligated to ensure that the human rights of every individual in Nicaragua are fully respected, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity;
• Urging the Nicaraguan government to repeal article 204 of the Penal Code and decriminalize homosexuality, in line with international human rights standards;
• Stating that no-one should be imprisoned or detained solely for their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including for same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults in private, for advocating LGBT rights, or for their political beliefs or activities under the pretext of charges of homosexuality.
• Call on President Bolaños to retract his homophobic statements and publicly commit to ensuring that national, state and local laws prohibit all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

At the end of the letters, Amnesty is encouraging anyone to ask for the response to the raised concerns.

The addres of President Ortega is given as:

Daniel Ortega
Presidente de la República
Casa Presidencial

The correct salutation for President Ortega is "Estimado Sr. Presidente".

Copies of the letters should be sent to diplomatic representatives of Nicaragua accredited to sender's country and to the Ambassador of that country to Nicaragua.

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