Judge upholds decision to refuse protection to Ghanaian man who claims he was persecuted for being gay

In Ghana, sexual activity between consenting men has been illegal since the colonial era, with a majority of the population holding anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments.

This article is about a Ghanaian man seeking international protection in Ireland. In the photo, the hand of a judge holding a gavel.
Image: Via Shutterstock - AnnaStills

On Friday, June 7, the High Court in Ireland upheld a tribunal’s decision to refuse refugee status and protection to a Ghanaian man who claimed he was gay and faced persecution in his home country. The court found that it was “not unreasonable” to reject the man’s claim.

Having arrived in Ireland in February 2020, the applicant immediately sought refugee status and was called for an interview with the International Protection Office 26 months later. In June 2022, his application was rejected and he was refused refugee status, subsidiary protection and leave to remain.

Then in November 2022, the International Protection Appeal Tribunal upheld the decision to reject his application, which prompted him to issue judicial review proceedings at the High Court. The Ghanaian man alleged that the tribunal had erred in rejecting his application for international protection by basing its findings on assumptions about the experience of a gay man.

The case then came before the High Court, where Justice Barry O’Donnell refused to overturn the decision made by the International Protection Appeal Tribunal, as reported by The Irish Times. According to the judge, findings made during the international protection process put into question the credibility of the applicant’s claim that he faced persecution for being gay.

Justice O’Donnell said that the Ghanaian man had told the tribunal that in the past, he had been married and had three children, but after his divorce in 2017, he met a man in 2018 who told him “about (being) gay and how it was going on”.

The applicant explained that he had moved in with the man that year and was no longer interested in women. He told the tribunal that his family made him feel like an outcast when he started living with the man and that he was attacked three times in Ghana between 2017 and 2020.

Justice O’Donnell said that assessing the credibility of assertions about sexual orientation is “undoubtedly” sensitive and difficult, but “they are assessments that have to be made”. According to the judge, the tribunal had adhered to the appropriate standards in assessing the applicant’s claim. The judge added that the tribunal accepted that gay men face extreme persecution in Ghana, where violence against LGBTQ+ people is common.

However, according to the tribunal, there was an accumulation of unexplained issues with the applicant’s narrative. For this reason, they said they had significant doubts about his credibility and could not accept that he had been persecuted.

In refusing his application, the tribunal said that although the man may “simply have been naive or reckless”, his account of engaging in a carefree way in an openly gay relationship in the face of widespread intolerance seemed “unexpected and unusual”. Moreover, they found issues with his account of coming to realise he was gay, which was “entirely bereft of any of the thoughts, feelings and emotions that are commonly experienced”.

According to Justice O’Donnell, it was not unreasonable or irrational for the tribunal to reject the Ghanaian man’s claim and refuse international protection. He found that the tribunal did not err by making findings based on conjecture or stereotype. According to him, the findings proceeded from careful consideration of the facts. The High Court thus held that the tribunal’s decision was lawful.

In Ghana, sexual activity between consenting men has been illegal since the colonial era, with a majority of the population holding anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. Moreover, earlier this year, the Parliament in Ghana approved a bill that makes it illegal to identify as LGBTQ+, with penalties of up to three years in prison.

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