Newsweek: Is Uganda’s Anti-Gay Ferver Spreading?
December 18th, 2009
[Update: This post has been updated to include a brief statement MP David Bahati made to NPR.]
Katie Paul pulls the microscope off of Uganda and looks at the climate for LGBT citizens throughout Africa. It doesn’t look good. Much of the continent is rife with homophobia. Last year, Burundi criminalized homosexuality for the first time, with penalties of up to two years in prison. In Senegal, we’ve seen people arrested for homosexuality (many of them LGBT advocates). The president of Gambia threatened to cut off the heads of all gay people in his country. And Nigeria has its own draconian bill languishing in its legislature that ostensibly outlaws same sex marriage, but goes much further by banning any gay people from living together and all advocacy on behalf of LGBT people. Meanwhile, Rwanda, which lies on Uganda’s southwest border, is currently debating a bill to criminalize homosexuality with five to ten year’s imprisonment, along with all advocacy and counseling of LGBT people. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission says that a vote may occur in Rwanda’s lower House sometime this week.
But despite all that, some have suggested that if the Anti-Homosexuality Bill becomes law, Uganda will represent the first domino to fall. One of those suggesting this is none other than Ugandan MP David Bahati, the prime sponsor of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. He told NPR:
“Once this bill passes, you’re going to see country by country learning from this, continent by continent. It’s a crucial time and a crucial bill, not only in Uganda but in the world.”
But as Paul points out, pointing to Uganda as the first domino as some have done is, as she puts it, “a tough sell”:
While the historical origins of anti-gay legislation are debatable, antipathy to homosexuality is by now a home-grown phenomenon throughout most of Africa. ABC’s Dana Hughes, writing from Nairobi, points out that such opinions on homosexuality are already widespread on the continet. “While American evangelicals are being examined for their role in the origins of the bill in Uganda,” she writes, “East Africa, and for that matter Africa as a whole, is decidedly, virulently against homosexuality.” In total, 37 countries in Africa have laws on the books criminalizing same-sex relations.
We’ve been on this story every since we first noticed that three American anti-gay activists were about to put on an anti-gay conference in Kampala. We did not believe and we have never suggested, as some have charged in probably the flimsiest strawman ever erected, that conditions weren’t already ripe for an anti-gay pogrom even without the meddling of three Americans who presented themselves as “experts” on homosexuality. We knew very well the conditions that already existed in that country, and that was the subject of the very second post we put up in the series.
We took notice and followed this story through the present day, and we’ll continue to follow it because Uganda has a very violent history. That violence in recent years has been directed toward that country’s reviled LGBT community. And now Ugandan leaders aim to take its violent legacy and codify it into law, turning LGBT people into candidates for the noose and a nation into an army of informers.
No, that conference didn’t start this fire, not by a longshot. The fire was already burning, but the conference was the napalm that burst the fire into the conflagration that we see today. And Uganda is hardly ground zero in Africa’s war against LGBT people. It’s just where the spotlight happens to shine at the moment. And with Ugandans’ extremely close geographical, cultural, and religious ties to Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya, these events bear very close scrutiny.
Council for Global Equality’s Top Ten List “Where The U.S. Should Do More”
April 28th, 2009
Here is something that escaped our notice until now. The Council for Global Equality, in responding to the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights reports, has identified what it calls the “Top Ten Opportunities for the U.S. to Respond” to anti-LGBT human rights abuses which are highlighted in the report. The countries identified by the Council include Egypt, Gambia, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Kuwait, Kyrgyz Republic, Lithuania, Nigeria, and Uganda.
The ten countries weren’t necessarily selected because they are the worst countries in the world for LGBT abuses. Instead, they are identified as the ten countries in which the U.S. has the best opportunity to influence change through diplomatic, political and economic leverage. The details for each country are found at the Council’s web site (PDF: 140KB/8 pages) Here is a rundown for each country targeted by the Council, along with the Council’s recommendations:
- Egypt: arrests, beatings and imprisonment of men suspected of being HIV-positive. Egypt is the third largest recipient of foreign AID. “Our partnership with Egypt should extend beyond the Middle East peace process: it should require a broad commitment to human rights that includes the rights of LGBT men and women.
- Gambia: President Yahya Jammeh threatened to “cut off the head” of any homosexual in his country. “We should explore using USAID funds to support programs that encourage tolerance, respect for diversity, and a genuine commitment to civil society”
- Honduras: Identified as “one of the worst violators of gay and transgender human rights in 2008.” Police routinely round up LGBT youths without cause and Honduran security officials reportedly condone assaults and rapes on gay detainees. Multiple murders were reported, including a leading transgender rights activist. “The U.S. Embassy should offer visible support to LGBT leaders in the country, and should press for accountability within the Honduran government. It should work with Honduran authorities to offer tolerance and diversity training for police and other security forces that are suspected of complicity in human rights abuse. It also should press for a prompt and thorough investigation of the murders and other incidents noted above.”
- India: Police often commit crimes against LGBT people, and officials in Bangalore ordered the arrest of transgender people. “Given our increasingly close relationship with India, we should express frank concern to the Indian Government over LGBT violence and discrimination.”
- Jamaica: There have been numerous anti-gay mob attacks, sometimes with direct police complicity. Some attacks have resulted in murder. Homes were firebombed, and one individual was hacked to death by a machete. LGBT advocates continue to be murdered, beaten and threatened, driving some into exile. Police have been criticized in many instances for failing to respond. “Senior U.S. officials should urge Jamaica’s Prime Minister to show leadership by condemning this violence and instituting measures to bring these and any future perpetrators to justice. U.S. police assistance should be targeted toward programs that promote tolerance and the defense of vulnerable groups against mob violence.”
- Kuwait: Abuses against transgender individuals were cited. “Individual liberties are at the heart of our democracy, and are critical to the development of deep-seated relationships with like-minded friends and allies. We need to encourage this understanding with Kuwaiti and other authorities as part of our dialogue on human rights.”
- Kyrgyz Republic: The report notes “a pattern of beatings, forced marriages, and physical and psychological abuse in the Kyrgyz Republic against lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men.” The Council notes that Kyrgyzstan receives significant foreign assistance. “if Kyrgyz officials are unwilling to address the problem, we should reevaluate our assistance levels and other bilateral programs.
- Lithuania: Political leaders have embraced anti-gay policies and have denied LGBT groups the right to assemble peacefully. “Freedoms of assembly and of association are fundamental rights in any democracy. If Lithuania is to claim its place as a democratic state, it must be challenged to honor these principles in law and in practice.”
- Nigeria: Adults convicted of homosexuality are subject to stoning in parts of the country that have adopted Shari’a law. LGBT advocates have been threatened, stoned, and beaten. A proposed law pending in Nigeria’s Senate would not only ban same-sex marriage, but any “coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of living together …. for other purposes of same sexual relationship.” This would open the doors of arrest for those who are legally married outside of Nigeria and who happen to travel to that country for business or vacation. “We hope it [the U.S. Embassy] will work with European and other embassies in Abuja to voice strong concerns over this dangerous new bill in the Nigerian Senate.”
- Uganda: Homosexuality is criminalized. Police arrested members of an NGO for taking a public stand against discrimination, as well as three LGBT activist at an HIV/AIDS conference. “Uganda is one of the largest recipients of PEPFAR funding for HIV/AIDS care, prevention and treatment. In Uganda, the money has been used to empower institutions and activists that have led homophobic campaigns in the country. We need to consider whether the US government’s priority focus on abstinence funding is blunting the effectiveness of the money we’re spending, while also discouraging tolerance-based response to the epidemic.”
Writing on behalf of the council, Mark Bromley highlighted Egypt and Jamaica for special concern:
Egypt was our third largest recipient of foreign aid from USAID and the State Department last year. I would not suggest cutting off U.S. assistance in a country like Egypt, but I am convinced that our funding should give us more leverage to speak out forcefully against the HIV arrests documented in the report.
… The U.S. government’s diplomatic response to these abuses must be strong and unconditional, and it should also be tied to our financial commitments in the country. Jamaica is a country where carefully-targeted U.S. support to gay rights or human rights groups could be effective in improving both the legal and community responses to LGBT violence. In addition, we should use the foreign assistance funding that we have allocated over the past several years to professionalize the Jamaican police force to help respond to these attacks.
Gambian President Threatens To Kill All Gays
May 19th, 2008
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh says he wants to “cut off the head” of any homosexual he can find in his country. He said this while on a farm tour yesterday, in which he also announced his intentions to introduce legislation that would be “stricter than those in Iran.” Jammeh also ordered any hotel or motel catering to gays or lesbians to close, and suggested that all homosexuals should leave the country.
Gambia, located on the western coast of Africa, is 90% Muslim. President Jammeh came to power in 1994 following a bloodless coup.