United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged African leaders to respect gay rights, the AFP reported.

Speaking during a two-day summit taking place at the African Union's new building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Ban criticized laws that discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

“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 such laws “prompted governments to treat people as second class citizens or even criminals.”

“Confronting these discriminations is a challenge, but we must not give up on the ideas of the universal declaration [of human rights],” he added.

Anti-gay sentiment on the African continent remains high. Gay sex is illegal in most African countries, including Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Botswana.

African leaders have previously criticized the United States and Britain for calling on nations to decriminalize gay relationships.

In announcing a new global initiative to support gay rights at the United Nations offices in Geneva last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was a “violation of human rights when governments declare it is illegal to be gay.”