United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has accused a number of nations in the 54-member African Union of ignoring or “even sanctioning” discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a speech described by local media as uncharacteristically outspoken, he told summit leaders at the event in Ethiopia’s capital that African nations should stop treating gays as second-class citizens and criminals.

“One form of discrimination ignored or even sanctioned by many states for too long has been discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said.

“Confronting these discriminations is a challenge, but we must not give up on the ideas of the universal declaration.”

Outgoing African Union chairman Tedoro Obiang Nguema, who is the president of Equatorial Guinea, accused external powers of perpetuating their influence in a speech just prior to the secretary general’s.

South Africa is the only country on the African continent that legally recognises gay rights and same-sex marriage.

Late last year, Uganda’s parliament re-introduced a controversial bill that calls for the death penalty for certain homosexual acts.

Both the British and American governments said they would divert aid away from African governments that discriminate against LGBT citizens

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