Students against gay rights activist as new minister

Human rights lawyer and activist Nana Oye Lithur was sworn in as minister for gender, children and social protection last Monday, despite strong protest from church elements and the national student union over her liberal views on gay rights.

And on Tuesday, according to a report on GhanaWeb, Lithur outlined a “dynamic transformational blueprint to promote gender mainstreaming in the national development processes”, to be included in the national budget.

The government’s nomination of Lithur prompted the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) to turn against it, with a threat to demonstrate if parliament approved her appointment.

In a statement the students warned that, should her appointment be approved by the parliamentary committee, “the union would have no other option than to unleash the full force of Ghanaian students onto the streets, such as not even the gates of hell can contain”.

According to a story on The Africa Report website, at her vetting Lithur told the committee that “she would not promote the practice of homosexuality in Ghana, but did not hesitate to add that so long as Chapter 5 of [the] country's constitution guarantees the fundamental human rights of all, as a lawyer, it enjoins her to be fair to all manner of people”.

“The country’s constitution guarantees human rights for all, including minority rights; and based on this, Nana Lithur wants to champion the cause for all those who have been denied their rights,” human rights lawyer Ken Attafuah said in an interview with Accra radio Joy FM.

Attafuah quoted article 17(1) of the 1992 constitution, which states that “all persons shall be equal before the law” and that a person “shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status”. Based on this, Attafuah said, Lithur was simply helping to protect the law.

But Lithur’s critics have voiced their fears that she will actively promote homosexuality.

Her position has drawn sharp criticism from the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Emmanuel Martey, who argued that her stand on homosexuality and lesbianism was “very dangerous to the moral health of the society”.

The NUGS position is similar, with students not interested in statements about human rights. They argued that their “societal values and norms are stronger than any constitutional clause”, and that at all times it was necessary to take great pains to enrich and strengthen Ghana’s “cultural heritage”.

The students cited “cultural values, societal norms, religious beliefs and customary laws” in defence of their argument, and said: “Nana Oye Lithur, whose open views on gays and lesbians are well documented, should be allowed nowhere near any ministerial position, especially one as sensitive as the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, in order to protect our highly esteemed Ghanaian cultural values and customary laws.”

NUGS went even further, calling for parliament to make the practice of homosexuality illegal.

But Lithur has argued that she never said homosexuality should be promoted or legalised. “I stand for justice for everybody, and what I said was that their rights should be protected. The rights of everybody, including homosexuals, should be protected.”

She said that “the debate on homosexuality and gay rights is a matter of importance to the society as a whole and must be debated until common ground is accepted constitutionally”.

On the day of her appointment, according to GhanaWeb, Lithur said her ministry would “counsel, guide and refer socially and economically distressed members of society to the appropriate bodies”. It would promote women entrepreneurship, enhance collaboration between stakeholders for sustainable development, provide rehabilitation services to children in statutory institutions and supervise services to children in conflict with the law.