At some point during the night of 28 September, FannyAnn Eddy, 30, was brutally murdered while at work in the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association´s offices. Eddy was raped repeatedly, stabbed and her neck was broken. The internationally known human rights activist leaves behind a 10-year-old son. (24-NOV-04)
If further evidence was ever needed that human rights defenders, especially those raising minority issues, are doubly at risk, the brutal murder of FannyAnn Eddy is it. For its recent 10-year anniversary conference, HRH chose to draw attention to the deteriorating security and working conditions of human rights defenders. The tragic death of FannyAnn Eddy underlines the importance of keeping the focus on the risks, in many places increasing, of being a human rights defender. What follows is Human Rights Watch´s news release about the tragic event, only slightly edited for republication here.
-A victim of violent discrimination
-The government of Sierra Leone should bring to justice those responsible for the brutal murder of FannyAnn Eddy, founder of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association and a lesbian rights activist known across Africa, Human Rights Watch said today. Eddy, 30, was found dead on the morning of September 29. While she was working alone in the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association’s offices the previous night, her assailant or assailants apparently broke in to the premises. She was raped repeatedly, stabbed and her neck was broken. “FannyAnn Eddy was a person of extraordinary bravery and integrity, who literally put her life on the line for human rights,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Project at Human Rights Watch. “Again and again, within her country’s borders and beyond, she drew attention to the harassment, discrimination and violence lesbian and gay people face in Sierra Leone. Now, she has been murdered in the offices of the organization she founded, and there is grave concern that she herself has become a victim of hatred.”
Internationally known activist
Eddy had founded the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association in 2002. The group provided social and psychological support to a fearful and underground community. Eddy herself, however, was a visible and courageous figure, lobbying government ministers to address the health and human rights needs of men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women. In April, Eddy was part of a delegation of sexual-rights activists whom Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) helped attend the annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Eddy met with her own government’s delegation, and testified to the Commission about lesbian and gay rights in what she called “my beloved Sierra Leone.” “We face constant harassment and violence from neighbors and others,” she told the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. “Their homophobic attacks go unpunished by authorities, further encouraging their discriminatory and violent treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” Eddy and her organization documented harassment, beatings and arbitrary arrests of lesbian, gay and transgender people in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone still marked by its civil war
Sierra Leone is emerging from a devastating 11-year civil war that ended in 2002. The civil war was characterized by egregious human rights abuses by all sides but especially by rebel forces, including widespread rape, murder, torture and limb amputation. Despite the disarmament of some 47,000 combatants and the successful completion of presidential and parliamentary elections in May 2002, the deep rooted issues that gave rise to the conflict—endemic corruption, weak rule of law, crushing poverty and the inequitable distribution of the country´s vast natural resources—remain largely unaddressed by the government.
Severe shortcomings within the legal system
While there were serious problems with the Sierra Leone Police and judicial system before the conflict, the civil war clearly exacerbated them. The international community, particularly the United Kingdom, has invested heavily in efforts to train the police and rehabilitate the judicial system, however numerous problems remain. While there have been many improvements in the behavior of the police, reports of extortion, bribe-taking and unprofessional conduct remain common. There are insufficient numbers of judges, magistrates, prosecutors and courtrooms, which has led to huge backlogs within the court system. Extended and unlawful detention of hundreds of criminal suspects—many without due process guarantees as stipulated in the constitution—is also a key problem.
Important to identify and bring to justice those responsible
“The authorities in Sierra Leone must investigate this crime fairly and fully,” said Long. “They must send a message to a frightened lesbian and gay community that violence against them will not go unpunished.”