Homosexual acts are illegal in all of the Comoros, regardless of age. The Penal Code provides a punishment of up to five years imprisonment, and a fine of 50,000 to 1,000,000 Comoran francs (USD 166 to 3,333) for acts that are “indecent or against nature with an individual of the same sex”. As the penal codes of Madagascar and Comoros share a common ancestor in French law, the wording is nearly identical – except that the Comoran version omits any reference to age.
The Union of the Comoros is an archipelago island nation in the Indian Ocean, located off the eastern coast of Africa. Countries near to the Comoros are Tanzania to the northwest and the Seychelles to the northeast. It consists of the four islands.
The country has had a history marked by numerous coups d’états since independence in 1974. As of 2008 about half the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day–one of the world’s poorest countries.
Comoros is mostly a Muslim country so both male and female same-sexual acts considered to be against nature are illegal in Comoros. Such acts are punished with up to five years imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to 1,000,000 francs. The age of consent is thirteen. LGBT people engaging in same-sex activity do not publicly discuss their sexual orientation due to societal pressure. There are no lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organizations in the country.
Homosexuality is Illegal
Note that same-sex activity between consenting adults is criminalized by article 318 of the Penal Code of the Comoros. The UN Human Rights Committee has confirmed that such laws violate the rights to both privacy and non-discrimination, contrary to articles 17(1) and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee further considered that these laws “run counter to the implementation of effective education programs in respect of HIV/AIDS prevention” by driving marginalized communities underground.
Note that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Pillay, has recently called on federal States to decriminalize sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex, in accordance with international human rights law.
She recommends that the Comoros bring its Penal Code into conformity with its international human rights obligations by repealing those provisions which criminalize same-sex activity between consenting adults.
Mayotte is Different
However, one of these four islands of the Comoros, Mayotte, voted against independence from France in 1974 and has vetoed United Nations Security Council resolutions that would affirm Comorian sovereignty over the island. In March 2009 a referendum on Mayotte’s becoming an overseas department of France in 2011 was passed overwhelmingly by the people of Mayotte, so politically the Comoros is divided into two governing spheres. Mayotte is geographically part of the Comoro Islands, but remains under French rule. In a 2009 referendum, the population overwhelmingly approved accession to status of department and on March 31, 2011, Mayotte became an overseas department.
It is unclear what the situation for homosexuals is in Mayotte. Approximately 60% of the Mahorese population is under 20 years of age, 99% are Muslims. Even though French law (“droit pénal”) applies–which would make homosexuality legal and protected–it coexists with traditional Comorian Islamic laws.
Although Comoros is one of the poorest countries in the world, Mayotte, only 70km away, is part of the European Union (EU) and is rich. With the economic disparity between the two islands widening, an increasing number of impoverished Comoran migrants are braving the ocean swells in search of a better life.
In the past, Comoran citizens were allowed to travel to and from Mayotte freely, but while Mayotte prospered, the post-independence history of the three islands in the Union of Comoros was characterised by separatism and political instability
with some 20 attempted or successful coups. In 1995 visa requirements were introduced, restricting travel between Mayotte and the Union islands, and many Comorans already on Mayotte became “clandestine” or “illegal migrants”.
Mayotte, like the other three ‘Union islands’, is far from self-sufficient and has become heavily dependent on French financial assistance delivered mainly via social benefits and subsidies, making it the envy of the island chain. Most “clandestines” are unwilling to leave once they have set foot on Mayotte.
The French response to the “boat people” has been twofold: the authorities have invested in keeping people out, stepping up patrols between the islands and installing a third radar station; and more and more of those already on Mayotte are being arrested and deported.
Ultimately, there is not much the Comoran Union government can do to halt the exodus of desperate people seeking a better life on Mayotte. “They [Union government] are now not interested in limiting these flows; they have other problems to deal with now.”
When illegals are caught or arrested in Mayotte they are put in a clandestine facility in the town of Pamandzi to await deportation. The detention center has been described as “overcrowded, unfurnished, dirty and fetid.” On November 20th 2008, the EU Commissioner for Human Rights Hammarberg “urged that the living conditions of foreigners held in Mayotte be improved immediately.”
As far as civil status and land are concerned, citizens of Mayotte deal with the Cadi (a Muslim judge, who also has religious functions). This results for example in polygamy being allowed (one man having the possibility to have a maximum of four women). However, Mahorese can choose to depend on the French “droit commun” (regular French law), in which case they must give up the traditional law for them and their family.
How much authority French law has with Comoran law is unclear but with most of the population practicing Islam it is highly likely that homophobia and anti-gay attitudes are the standard. But French law probably protects LGBT people from legal prosecution. (This is not certain.)
Unrest and Uprising
The illegals situation took a turn for the worse in 2011. Wrote one French expat in October in Mayotte, “in certain parts of the island, the forces of order are no longer intervening any more. They are letting the demonstrators or illegal immigrant thugs have free reign there, putting up barricades people need to pay to pass through. The cars of metropolitans [white French people] are stoned; some of the barricades are selective…
“The situation of the expatriates is truly threatening, and no one is doing anything. Where is the army? If we were in the Ivory Coast in the same situation, there would have been an order to evacuate and return to France! But there, because it’s France (sic), the state can’t say “French people go home”. Political correctness prevents them saying “White people go home”, but that’s exactly what has to be done! France is leaving its citizens in a critical and unacceptable situation…. In any poor African society when there are problems, they turn against the foreigner. So today it’s the person from metropolitan France, the person who has an income, a house, a car…”
With such disruption, anger and violence against Westerners it is certain that any slight protection or progress for LGBT people will be ignored and, worse, gays will be turned into targets for violence.
Compiled by Richard Ammon