Uganda Considers Another Round of Anti-Gay/Human Rights Laws Targeting NGOs
April 30th, 2014
It’s hard to fathom that a country that enacted one of the world’s more restrictive anti-gay laws just a little over two months ago, and with it earned international condemnation, would go back to that well again. But it looks like that is exactly what they are about to do:
Uganda has drafted a new law that would bar non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from promoting homosexuality, tightening rules further after anti-gay legislation in February was widely condemned as draconian.
The draft, now being studied by the cabinet before being introduced in parliament, would also ban foreign NGOs from meddling in the east African country’s politics, junior internal affairs minister James Baba told Reuters on Monday.
The government has already raided at least one HIV/AIDS research and service NGO, this one operated by the U.S. military, over allegations that it has violated the Anti-Homosexualty Act’s clauses against “aiding and abetting” and “promoting” homosexuality. The U.S. responded by suspending that project, but it has been reluctant to suspend major portions of the U.S.’s estimated $723 million aid package while Ugandan troops continue peacekeeping operations in Somalia while also battling insurgents from the Lord’s Resistance Army. Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark and Britain have already announced direct aid suspensions to the Ugandan government, but the European Union ambassador to Uganda has downplayed talk of wider aid cuts.
The draft NGO law appears to be much broader than the reported sexuality aspects. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, will stand again for yet another five year term in the 2016 elections. His government has come under increasing fire over rampant corruption, the government’s repression of press freedoms and its harassment and detention of opposition figures:
Local and international rights groups have been especially vocal in highlighting mounting violence against members of opposition and the impunity enjoyed by corrupt officials loyal to Museveni, who they say is eager to close all key platforms that give a voice to civil society.
Last year parliament, which is heavily dominated by the ruling party, passed a public order management law that requires any group of more than three people meeting to discuss politics to first seek permission from the police chief.
A Kampala-based human rights lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo, said the law was aimed at blunting NGOs’ criticism of government corruption.
Uganda Police Raid Another HIV Service Provider
April 9th, 2014
Last week, police in Kampala raided and shut down an HIV/AIDS Service provider funded by the U.S. military’s Walter Reed Project. This morning, NTV Uganda reports on another raid taking place in the Nakasero district in downtown Kampala where most of the government and diplomatic buildings are located.
Kampala police yesterday released this statement concerning the raid at the Walter Reed Project. It appears that they had been sending undercover officers to the project. Note the depiction of materials describing safe sex practices as a “same-sex pornographic film.”
Police received a report that an NGO based in Nakasero area of Kampala was carrying out recruitment and training of young males in unnatural sexual acts.
Police deployed crime intelligence officers to verify the claims, by infiltrating the project. Two officers undertook the assignment.
The officers were registered for training by the NGO, and given identification numbers. The training targeted youth between the ages of 18 and 25.The trainees were shown videos of men engaging in homosexual activity, and they were encouraged to bring along their sexual partners.
The trainees were further given literature describing safe sexual practice between males, as well as condoms and lubricant. They were each paid between UGX. 10,000 to UGX. 100,000, as transport refund, at the end of each training session. On 4th of April, 2014, crime intelligence officers observed a large number of participants being shown a same-sex pornographic film. The officers identified themselves to the facilitators, and asked for an explanation on what was happening.
On learning of the presence of the Police, the participants fled. One of the facilitators accompanied the officers to Jinja Road Police Station to assist in investigation, and was later released.
The NGO later complained to the Inspector-General of Police of harassment and unprofessional conduct by the officers involved, and the IGP has directed the Professional Standards Unit to investigate.
In the meantime, we appeal to all persons who may have participated in this training, or have information that could assist the Police in the investigation, to volunteer such information to the Police.
Uganda Police Force
U.S. Suspends Ugandan HIV Research Project
April 8th, 2014
Last week, we briefly mentioned reports coming out of Uganda that police had raided the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, a U.S.-funded joint project with the university and the U.S. military’s HIV research program. NTVUganda reports more on the raid above, which comes as a direct consequence of the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. One of the provisions of the act criminalizes “promotion” of homosexuality and another provision criminalizes “aiding and abetting” homosexuality. The U.S. State Department has responded by suspending the program:
We are deeply concerned that a U.S.-funded health clinic and medical research facility, the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), was raided by Ugandan authorities on April 3, leading to the arrest of one of the facility’s employees, allegedly for conducting “unethical research” and “recruiting homosexuals.” While that individual was subsequently released, this incident significantly heightens our concerns about respect for civil society and the rule of law in Uganda, and for the safety of LGBT individuals.
The MUWRP is engaged in efforts to improve public health and save lives. The Ugandan government is responsible for protecting all of its people, and attacks and intimidation of health care workers are unacceptable. The safety of health workers must be respected. We have temporarily suspended the operations of MUWRP to ensure the safety of staff and beneficiaries, and the integrity of the program.
This suspension comes just three weeks after the Obama Administration announced an increase in military advisers, special forces and aircraft to Uganda to aid in its battle against the insurgency led by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Liberation Army.
EU Downplays Ugandan Sanctions Over Anti-Homosexuality Act
April 3rd, 2014
LGBT advocates in Uganda are split over the question of foreign aid cuts in response to the country’s adoption of the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act. Many have argued that any actions taken against Uganda should be aimed at addressing the much larger human rights problems in what is increasingly becoming a one-party kleptocracy. Sexual Minorities Uganda executive director Frank Mugisha and others have cautioned against aid cuts:
“We can’t afford to create new victims,” (Mugisha) said on Twitter this week. “We should go after the crazy politicians! Not innocent Ugandans.”
…Edwin Sesange, director of the African LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group, said in a Gay Star News comment piece: ‘Aid in various forms helps all ordinary Ugandans, including LGBTI people who we are campaigning for. “Therefore the consequences of not being able to access those services financed by foreign aid will directly impact gay, lesbian, trans and bi Ugandans wellbeing. Our parents, sisters, brothers, friends and other relatives will also become victims. By contrast, most proponents of homophobia in Uganda can afford luxurious lives without depending on some foreign aid funded projects.”
He added: Politicians and the anti-gay vigilantes are using this threat from developed countries as a way of convincing people the west is using foreign aid and its influence to spread homosexuality to Uganda. We need to change this argument such people can understand the role of the western countries has is fighting homophobia, not making people gay. Western leaders need to assess the risks of their strategies before LGBTI people pay the consequences.”
Meanwhile, Ugandan critics question why the West is ignoring the protracted government-sponsored violence against opposition leaders and their supporters and focusing all of their attention on the LGBT population. This is the best way to understand the situation on the ground that the European Union Ambassador to Uganda Kristian Schmidt is trying to address in this interview with NTV Uganda yesterday.
Europe is not here to exchange money for African values. This is not the nature of our partnership. Our partnership is one of equal partners where what we do in the area of development cooperation is discussed and agreed with our Ugandan partners.
The discussion that we have on human rights are not conditional, and that’s why it’s important to note that we are not threatening. We didn’t threaten with aid cuts during the process of legislative adoption of the bill. This is not how Europe operates.
J. Lester Feder at Buzzfeed has more on the assurances Ambassador Schmidt says that he is seeking from the Uganda Government:
During an interview in his office in the Ugandan capital on Wednesday, Schmidt would not specify what assurances the E.U. sought from the five cabinet officials he met with behind closed doors last week. But, he said, he was “very” satisfied with the conversation and expected to resume the discussion after Ugandan officials returned from a summit between E.U. leaders and African leaders being held this week in Brussels.
“I am satisfied with the fact that … there were five ministers [in the meeting] … ready to give us assurances, that the law wouldn’t mean violations of privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, [and] the way medical care will be extended in facilities that are already caring for men who have sex with men,” Schmidt said. And while the E.U. believes the “law is discriminatory from A to Z and it has to be repealed,” he said, “there are ways to limit the damage. I want to keep working on that [through dialogue].”
…“We do not try to buy African acceptance for European or universal values through our development cooperation,” he said. “Because what happens when you try to do that, you get the [backlash] that we’re seeing.… It’s not productive to present it as a trade off.”
It’s hard to see what meaningful assurances government could offer when arrests like these are continuing across Uganda and suspects are being paraded before TV cameras:
Two men suspected of engaging in homosexuality acts have been arrested in Oyam. Oyam District Police Commander, Najibu Waiswa says 22-year-old Maurice Okello and his alleged partner, 18-year-old Anthony Oluku were caught red handed. Police claims the two admitted to having been involved in acts of homosexuality.
Meanwhile, Frank Mugisha is tweeting this morning that police have raided an NGO at Makarere University which receives PEPFAR funds from the US over services it provides to LGBT people:
Ugandans Celebrate Anti-Homosexuality Act
April 1st, 2014
Uganda’s Inter-Religious Council, a coalition of religious denominations, organized a ceremony of prayer and thanksgiving yesterday at the Kololo Independence Grounds, the nationally-revered site where Uganda’s independence was declared in 1962. Religious and political leaders gathered to honor President Yoweri Museveni for signing the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law despite widespread international condemnation. Buzzfeed’s J. Lester Feder was there and described the carnival atmosphere at Kololo:
Fire jugglers, acrobats, and schoolchildren performed at a five-hour ceremony in the Ugandan capital on Monday called to celebrate the country’s new Anti-Homosexuality Act.
Speakers paid tribute to President Yoweri Museveni, the official guest of honor, and linked Uganda’s fight against homosexuality with shedding its colonial past in an event that had the feeling of a campaign rally.
“Today, we come here again [to celebrate] sovereignty and freedom … [and] to take charge of our destiny,” said David Bahati, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, noting that the event was taking place at the Kololo Independence Grounds, the parade grounds where Ugandan independence was granted in 1962. “The citizens of Uganda are with you, Mr. President. The religious and cultural leaders are with you, Mr. President. The members of parliament and the nation is behind you.”
Sheik Shaban Mubajje, Mufti of Uganda, spoke on behalf of the Inter-Religious Council in offering prayers of thanksgiving for the Anti-Homosexuality Act, while complaining that foreign donors have cut US$3.5 million in aid to the group that had been earmarked its HIV/AIDS programs. HIV/AIDS providers and legal experts have warned that the overly broad wording of the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s “aiding and abetting” clause would, at best, have a chilling effect on the delivery HIV/AIDS services to LGBT people, and, at worst, could be interpreted as criminalizing it. Other religious leaders offering thanksgiving prayers included Roman Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga, Anglican Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, and evangelical pastor Simon Peter Emiau. Ahead of the celebration, Pastor Martin Ssempa, of “eat-da-poo-poo” fame and staunch supporter of the new law, led a march of supporters from Makarere University to Kololo.
Museveni charged that Western countries were “attacking our culture, which is the bedrock of our survival,” and promised to support a domestic fund to replace lost foreign dollars for HIV/AIDS.
U.S. To Announce Sanctions Against Uganda
March 24th, 2014
Key members of Congress were reportedly briefed yesterday on the Obama Administrations plans to curtail or redirect U.S. aid to Uganda in response to Yoweri Museveni’s signing the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law. According to Buzzfeed, the Administration has settled on four specific steps:
Money will be shifted away from the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, a group that has publicly come out in support of the anti-gay law and has received millions of dollars in grants from the United States to help fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Some $2.3 million will continue to go to the IRCU to continue treatment for some 50,000 current patients, but an additional $6.4 million intended for the IRCU will go to other organizations.
The Inter-Religious Council is a coalition of Ugandan Roman Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Christian Orthodox and Seventh-Day Adventist faith leaders. When the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was first proposed in Parliament in 2009, the Inter-Religious Council debated the bill and many of its members gave it their full backing, although many questioned the death penalty provision in the original bill. But by the following spring, the Inter-Religious Council softened its support somewhat. Two weeks ago, the Inter-Religious Council defended the aims of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, while also calling on the government to revisit the legislation and asked that for a dialogue “with the donor community on the looming suspension of aid to our country.”
The remaining three steps the Obama Administration will take include:
Second, because the law makes “promoting homosexuality” illegal, a U.S. funded study to help identify populations at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS has been suspended. The study, which was going to be conducted by a Ugandan university and the Center for Disease Control, has been suspended out of fear that both staff and survey respondents could be put in danger.
Third, because any LGBT person or LGBT ally who now enters Uganda is at risk, money intended for tourism programs will be redirected. “Therefore, approximately $3 million in funding designated for tourism and biodiversity promotion will be redirected to NGOs working on biodiversity protection,” (National Security Council spokesman Jonathan) Lalley said.
And finally, the Department of Defense had several events scheduled in the country later this spring and those will be moved to other locations. “Certain near-term invitational travel” for Ugandan military and police personnel has also been suspended or canceled.
Norway, Demark, the Netherlands, which collectively had provided $27 million in aid to Uganda, have already announced their aid cuts aid to the Ugandan government. Sweden has cut just a little over $1 million in direct government-to-government aid, but was continuing to provide aid to non-governmental programs. Last month, the World Bank said it was delaying a $90 million loan to Uganda’s health service.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act provides for a lifetime sentence for those who are convicted of homosexuality. It also imposes a lifetime sentence for those who are convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” which include “serial offenders” of homosexuality “or related offences.” Related offenses include lifetime imprisonment for entering into a same-sex marriage, seven years for conducting one, five to seven years for advocacy by or on behalf of LGBT people, five years for providing housing to LGBT people, and seven years for providing services to LGBT people. The Act also provides for the extradition of any “person charged with an offence under this Act.”
A coalition of Ugandan human rights activists are currently challenging the Anti-Homosexuality Act before the country’s Constitutional Court.