In Malawi, a law against homosexuality has been suspended and the police have been ordered to stop arresting gay people pending a decision by parliament as to whether to repeal the law. Repeal of the criminalization of homosexuality will face public debate and a parliamentary vote.

In an explanation of the suspension of the law while it is debated, Attorney General Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara said: “If we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government. It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail.”

The suspension and legal debate follows the pledge to decriminalize homosexuality made by Malawi’s new President, Joyce Banda, upon taking office. Banda is seeking decriminalization in an effort to ensure a more effective fight against HIV/AIDS and also to “normalize relations with development partners including Britain.” Western development donors withdrew financial support under the previous president’s administration when the country drew international attention in 2009 for its arrest of two men who became the first gay couple to marry in Malawi.

In July, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa called for the decriminalization of homosexuality everywhere in the world as a necessary step in combating HIV/AIDS. The archbishop argued that increasing acceptance and reducing stigma of homosexuality is a crucial step in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The archbishop said, “I have no doubt that in the future, the laws that criminalize so many forms of human love and commitment will look the way the apartheid laws do to us now–so obviously wrong. Such a terrible waste of human potential.”

If homosexuality is successfully decriminalized in Malawi, it would be the first country to do so since 1994. Homosexuality is currently banned 70 countries worldwide, including 36 in Africa.

Media Resources: Reuters 11/05/2012; The Telegraph 11/05/2012; Malawi Today 11/05/2012; Feminist Daily News 07/23/2012

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