Opening pathways to justice for LGBTQI+ individuals in West Africa
LGBTQI+ people face some of the harshest forms of exclusion and discrimination in Africa, ranging from an inability to access basic services like housing and healthcare, to violence based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics (SOGIESC). In many countries, the identities of LGBTQI+ individuals are criminalized through criminal law restrictions on consensual sexual activities between adults, the over-zealous application of those laws and a growing number of prohibitions and arbitrary arrests and detention. They face additional obstacles to accessing justice with many lawyers refusing to defend their cases, which reflects broader homophobic views and stigma in society.
In response to these challenges, over the past ten years Synergía – Initiatives for Human Rights has experimented with a paralegal program in Nigeria to assist LGBTQI+ organizations and individuals to confront human rights violations based on SOGIESC. This project will examine the experiences of the paralegal support and new efforts to replicate it in Togo at three levels: the conditions that enable, or constrain, the safe provision of paralegal services in contexts where justice systems drive injustice for LGBTQI+ peoples; the impacts of paralegals on the lived experiences of LGBTQI+ individuals, like their ability to report abuse and seek justice, or on reducing rights violations and impunity for them; and how to build constructive engagement with policymakers to improve projects for LGBTQI+ individuals. The findings are expected to contribute to improving efforts to promote SOCIESC human rights in the countries of study, identify recommendations to replicate similar paralegal programs, and open spaces of policy engagement to address gaps, especially in the justice system, that are contributing to rights violations of LGBTQI+ individuals. This is part of a global cohort of projects on Closing the justice gap - A Legal Empowerment Research and Learning Agenda.