JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Homophobia in sub-Saharan Africa has reached "dangerous levels" with more countries passing laws criminalising same-sex relations, a report released on Tuesday by Amnesty International revealed.
The rights group said homophobic attitudes and attacks on gays were in some cases "fuelled by key politicians and religious leaders who should be using their position to fight discrimination and promote equality."
"In some African countries political leaders target sexual orientation issues to distract attention from their overall human rights record."
According to the report, Africa's strict penal codes were initially imposed by colonial rulers, based on Christian moral values.
"African people were encouraged by the colonising power... to view dislike and fear of those expressing normative sexual orientation as a sign of progress and civilisation."
Homosexuality is illegal in 38 countries in the region, with South Africa the only country that recognises gay rights and allows same-sex marriage.
However, even protection by the country's liberal laws has not stopped harassment.
Black lesbians in Africa's largest economy are commonly targeted for attacks known as "corrective rape" by men trying to "cure" their homosexuality.
Meanwhile in Zambia two men Philip Mubiana, 21, and James Mwape, 20, are currently standing trial for charges of sodomy, a crime that carries a 14-year sentence.
In 2010 Malawi drew worldwide condemnation for the jailing of a gay couple for 14-years with hard labour for sodomy. During the course of the trial, Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika called homosexuality "evil and very bad before the eyes of God".
Mutharika later bowed to international pressure and pardoned the men.
The report titled: "Making Love a Crime," says in the last five years South Sudan and Burundi have introduced new laws criminalising same-sex relations, while Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria are pushing bills that would toughen existing penalties.
"These poisonous laws must be repealed and the human rights of all Africans upheld," said Widney Brown, Amnesty International's director of Law and Policy.
Between June and November 2012, at least seven people in the region, five of them lesbians, were murdered in hate-motivated crimes, it said.
Island nations like Cape Verde, Seychelles and Mauritius were applauded for "positive developments" in working towards decriminalising homosexuality.
Uganda was cited as one of the leading states that have sought to toughen laws criminalising homosexuality, including introducing a bill that seeks to impose the death penalty for 'aggravated' homosexuality.
Under the bill, those who fail to report violations within 24 hours could face prosecution.