New Angolan Penal Code Decriminalizes Homosexuality


Angolan members of Parliament (MPs) voted to decriminalize homosexuality amid the adoption of a new penal code, approved on January 23. The new code will replace a colonial-era code that has remained in effect since 1886 despite Angola’s independence from Portuguese rule in 1975. Although there have been no known convictions based on sexual orientation, the prior code contained an article pertaining to the detainment of “those who habitually give themselves up to the practice of vices against nature,” a clause widely interpreted to refer to homosexuality.

This revision is accompanied by further provisions against sexuality-based discrimination, including the stipulation that refusal to employ somebody on the basis of sexual orientation will result in jail time of up to two years.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, hailed these legislative changes as essential symbolic steps toward greater equality. In an official statement, he called attention to the “inextricable relation between decriminalisation and the fight against discrimination,” whereby tacit legal justification creates an “environment conducive to violence and discrimination.”

The report did not strike a uniformly optimistic tone, noting that, of 193 countries recognized by the UN, 68 still had legislation that criminalizes same-sex conduct, a finding also emphasized by Human Rights Watch. Homosexuality laws still exist (but have recently come under fire) in several African countries like Tanzania, where same-sex relationships are technically punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Nevertheless, Angola’s penal code revisions are not anomalies. Just last year, President João Lourenço approved the legalization of Iris Angola, an organisation committed to defending the rights of the LGBTQ community in Angola. The latest legislative changes add to a string of African nations that have also committed to reform discriminatory laws in recent years, including former Portuguese colonies Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Sao Tome and Principe, as well as Lesotho and the Seychelles. Both reports focus on this general progress, emphasizing the possibility for other countries around the world to follow Angola’s lead.