There is some confusion regarding exactly how many countries still criminalise homosexuality, with numbers ranging from 76 to over 80. This website has been created by Professor Paula Gerber to provide clarity regarding which countries continue to criminalise homosexuality and the exact text of the relevant criminal laws. This website allows you to not only identify which countries still criminalise homosexuality, but to see the exact text of the relevant criminal laws.
This website also highlights which countries have ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its Optional Protocol, which allows individuals to take a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee. This data is important, because the criminalisation of consensual sexual conduct between adult males is a breach of the ICCPR. This was established unequivocally by the UN Human Rights Committee in its landmark decision in Toonen v Australia.
A large number of countries have laws that criminalise homosexuality. In fact, homosexuality is currently considered a crime in 75 countries. Thirty-eight of these countries are part of the Commonwealth, suggesting that the criminalisation of homosexuality maybe a legacy of the British Empire.
Additionally, 55 of the 75 countries that still criminalise homosexuality have ratified the ICCPR, while 25 have also ratified the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. The effect of this is that in only one third of the countries that criminalise homosexuality, do lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons have the option of bringing a complaint of violation of their human rights to the UN Human Rights Committee via the communication procedure.
Regionally, most of the countries that criminalise homosexuality are found on the African continent. The Middle Eastern region has the second highest number of countries that consider homosexuality a crime, which is closely followed by the Asian region. After Northern Cyprus decriminalised homosexuality in 2014, Europe became the first region where homosexuality is legal in all countries. This is not to say that everything is rosy for LGBTI people in Europe. Many countries in Eastern Europe are enacting ‘Russia-style’ laws prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality and there is significant violence against trans people across Europe. For example, in the five year period between 2008 and 2012, there were 71 reported murders of trans people in European countries.
While the majority of countries that criminalise homosexuality do so via legislation, there are several where it is the application of Sharia Law that leads to such an outcome.
The severity of penalties for homosexuality range from fines to the death penalty. Imprisonment is a common form of penalty, while corporal punishment is also imposed in some countries.
Fortunately, there are several organisations that are working hard to have these laws repealed or overturned. Details of some of these groups are provided on the Useful Links page. Let’s hope, that in time, their work, and the efforts of local activists, will see the number of countries that fail to respect the basic equality and dignity of LGBTI people, reduce to zero.
Finally, it is worth noting that the laws criminalising homosexuality are not just relics of a bygone era that governments just haven’t got around to formally repealing. In many countries, these laws are actively enforced, and in some cases authorities have recently broadened the laws and increased the severity of the penalties. The section on Developments provides a sobering insight into how these laws are being applied in practice.
 Trans Respect Versus Transphobia, Constant Rise in Murder Rates, March 2013, http://www.transrespect-transphobia.org/en/tvt-project/tmm-results/march-2013.htm.
You can view details of the countries that continue to criminalise homosexuality under the following sections:
Last updated: 18 February 2016