Top EU court ruling backs gay African asylum bids

African gay rights campaigner in US, 8 Jun 13 Even when living abroad some gay Africans fear being named and targeted back home

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The EU's top court has ruled that homosexuals from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal who fear imprisonment in their home country have grounds for asylum in EU member states.

The Netherlands had asked the court for advice about three gay citizens of those countries seeking asylum.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) says asylum can be granted in cases where people are actually jailed for homosexuality in their home country.

ECJ rulings apply to all EU members.

Homosexual acts are illegal in most African countries, including key Western allies such as Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya and Botswana.

In June a report by Amnesty International said homophobic attacks had reached dangerous levels in sub-Saharan Africa and must stop.

The ECJ judgment on Thursday was a response to the Dutch Council of State, a top advisory body, which had asked whether homosexuals could be considered a "particular social group" and whether criminalisation and possible imprisonment amounted to persecution.

The ECJ, based in Luxembourg, says laws specifically targeting homosexuals do make them a separate group.

But it is up to the national authorities - in this case the Netherlands - to determine "whether, in the applicant's country of origin, the term of imprisonment... is applied in practice".

The mere existence of a ban on homosexuality is not grounds in itself for approving an asylum request, the ECJ ruled.

Under international law a particular social group with a well-founded fear of persecution can claim refugee status if the persecution amounts to a severe violation of human rights.

Map showing gay rights in Africa

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