Gabon’s perspective on same-sex conduct and relationships is very different from other Commonwealth countries. Historically, Gabon has not been a part of the British colonial system, and as a result has not inherited the laws criminalising sodomy. In fact, Gabon is one of the 88 member states and governments who make up the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF), and has a mixed legal system based on customary law and French civil law, which did not export laws criminalising sexual orientation. Therefore, in Gabon, same-sex conduct has never been illegal, except for a period between July 2019 and June 2020.
On July 5, 2019, Gabon enacted its revisions to the Penal Code, which criminalised same-sex conduct between consenting adults, with a punishment of imprisonment for up to 6 months and/or a fine of up to 5 million FCFA. Article 402 (5) of the Central African country’s Penal Code criminalised adult, consensual, same-sex activity, and was applicable to both men and women. However, this ban was reversed in June 2020 by withdrawing Article 402 (5), after the Gabon Senate voted on the decision of decriminalisation and the President signed off on it. This, however, does not mean that Gabon recognises same-sex relationships, or that it has any protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In December 2008, Gabon co-sponsored and signed the non-binding United Nations declaration supporting a statement confirming that international human rights protections include sexual orientation and gender identity – it was the first time that a statement condemning rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people has been presented in the General Assembly. However, in 2011, Gabon voted against a joint statement at the United Nations to condemn violence and discrimination, based on SOGI, against LGBT people.
At the 60th Session, the Committee had no SOGIESC-specific recommendations for Gabon. There were also no LBTI-inclusive questions in the List of Issues. At the 81st session in 2022, however, Gabon received its first ever rights-affirming concluding observation from the CEDAW Committee.
The Committee asked the state party to provide “effective protection to lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women from gender-based violence and discrimination and ensure their access to justice through the appropriate investigation of their complaints, punishment of perpetrators and provision of compensation to survivors.” The List of Issues in 2019 had also pointed to a lack of access to justice for victims of sexual violence – it called for “information on measures taken to ensure free legal aid for women without sufficient means. Please explain which measures have been taken to ensure that free legal aid is ensured for victims of sexual violence and that the necessary medical certificates recognizing the status of victim of sexual or physical violence are issued”. The List of Issues did not contain a specific reference to LBTI constituencies.