Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe shouted “We are not gays,” Monday evening during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly. The remark was made to criticize against what he called “new” human rights, BuzzFeed reported.
“Respecting and upholding human rights is the obligation of all states, and is enshrined in the United Nations charter. Nowhere does the charter abrogate the right to some to sit in judgment over others, in carrying out this universal obligation,” Mugabe said, as Vox reported. “In that regard, we reject the politicization of this important issue and the application of double standards to victimize those who dare think and act independently of the self-anointed prefects of our time.”
The line reportedly drew audible laughter from the U.N. audience. The 91-year-old Mugabe is no stranger to controversy: Last year he called same-sex relationships “inhuman” and threatened to expel any diplomats who supported the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. In 2013, he used remarks against homosexuals to attack U.S. President Barack Obama.
Anti-gay rhetoric has been essential in Mugabe’s effort to keep his position of power in Zimbabwe. Sodomy is illegal in the country, and the Sexual Deviancy Act of 2006 also criminalized any relation between men that would “that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act,”
While the U.S. has made strides in expanding rights for LGBT people -- most recently with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June legalizing same-sex marriage -- many areas in sub-Saharan African have been moving in the opposite direction. In many parts of that region, it is not unusual for more than 80 percent of a population to consider homosexuality to be morally unacceptable, according to U.S. News & World Report, and the majority of countries there have criminalized homosexuality.
Western countries, including the U.S., have pushed to support LGBT rights in Africa. At times, authoritarian African leaders have encouraged the belief that U.S. leaders wish to impose homosexuality on their populations, Vox reported, and use that belief as a way to increase fear of an outside threat.