Angola's new penal code, which decriminalizes homosexual relationships, comes into force

Members of the Association IRIS Angola. Photo from the organization's archive, published with the author's permission.

Angola's new penal code, which decriminalizes relationships between people of the same sex and punishes homophobic violence, came into force on February 11.

The new legislation was approved in 2019 but only ratified in November 2020. It replaces the penal code of 1886, of the Portuguese colonial administration.

The code has removed a provision punishing those who “habitually indulge in the practice of vices against nature.”

It also introduces heavier punishments for violence motivated by discrimination on the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation. The law also punishes anybody who refuses to employ a person because of his or her sexual orientation with two years in prison.

The new code does not mention legal unions between people of the same sex.

Angola now joins the minority of African countries that do not criminalize consensual relations between adults of the same sex. In recent years, South Africa, Seychelles, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Malawi, Botswana, and Gabon have either judicially repealed or modified their laws in order to decriminalize such relationships.

In 2014, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called on all African states to do the same:

Reconhecer os perigos da violência e outras formas de discriminação contra pessoas com base na sua orientação sexual e identidade de género reais ou imputadas, e instituir leis que protejam as pessoas LGBTIQ+ da violência e discriminação como membros de uma categoria vulnerável, tal como exigido na Resolução 275 da Comissão Africana dos Direitos Humanos e dos Povos.

Recognize the dangers of violence and other forms of discrimination against persons based on their actual or assumed sexual orientation and gender identity, and establish laws that protect LGBTIQ+ people from violence and discrimination as members of a vulnerable category, as called for in Resolution 275 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Mozambique decriminalized homosexual relationships in 2015.

Angola, though, was ahead of Mozambique in permitting the registration of IRIS, an organization for the defence of sexual minorities, in 2018, something that Mozambique has declined to do with the organization Lambda.

Lambda works to educate and raise public awareness on the right to equality regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Since about 10 years ago, Lambda has been pressuring the Mozambican government to formally recognize the group as an “association,” without success.

The adoption of Angola's new penal code, and so the decriminalization of homosexual relationships, drew various reactions, especially from those hoping that the law would bring more tolerance to Angolan society.

LGBTQ resistance across the planet: In a historic decision, Angola decriminalizes being LGBTQ in the country.

The law, which was ratified in November 2020, came into force this week and changes the African country's penal code. The change also bans discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The change was seen as a move forward by human rights experts in the country, as activist Paula Sebastião told BBC Focus on Africa.

Esse Código Penal vai nos permitir atender a diferentes demandas a partir de agora, e também nos permite abrir uma conversa sobre trabalho, que é uma das principais lutas da comunidade LGBTQI+…

This penal code will allow us to meet different demands from now on, and it also allows us to open a conversation about work, which is one of the main struggles of the LGBTQI+ community…

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