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Posts for January, 2010

Congressional Human Rights Commission Hears Testimony On Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill

Jim Burroway

January 22nd, 2010

Yesterday, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) chaired a meeting of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission to discuss the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill that is now before Uganda’s Parliament. Julius Kaggwa, a leader of the Kampala-based  Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights & Constitutional Law, was among those who testified to say that personal involvement by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle would be helpful in stopping the bill.

According to written testimony supplied to BTB, Mr. Kaggwa described some of the abuses he and others have incurred in Uganda:

I have personally been a victim of this hostility on several occasions.  In one case, I was forced to resign from a job for the simple reason that controversy around my identity had placed the reputation of the organisation I worked for in question. They felt that having me on their staff drew “unwanted” attention to their organisation. In another case, a house I rented was set on fire by unidentified people.

I personally know lesbians who have been raped by male relatives in order to so-called “cure them” of their lesbianism. Sadly, although they were thus infected with HIV, they cannot access justice. I know gay men who have been habitually blackmailed to avoid arrest.  I have further seen first-hand the trauma of transgender Ugandans who have been sexually abused, including by the police, and arrested purely for their gender expression. One transgender woman had a gang of men violently insert rough pieces of wood in her anus to remind her that she was a biological man and not a woman. These and similar abuses are what LGBT Ugandans live with on a daily basis. In most cases, the government has not held the perpetrators accountable.

Mr. Kaggwa testified that as harsh as the situation has been for LGBT people, it has deteriorated further since MP David Bahati introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill before Uganda’s Parliament.

Since the bill’s first reading in the Ugandan parliament, the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law has been approached for help by homosexual people who have received death threats. We have also been approached by human rights activists whose offices have been raided by police and where police surveillance continues daily.  Religious leaders have threatened to hunt homosexuals if the government does not pass the bill quickly.

The effects of the bill would be wide-ranging. If passed in its current form, it would not only impose a lifetime sentence on those who are convicted of homosexuality, it will add the death sentence if the accused is HIV-positive, a “serial offender,” or whose partner is deemed disabled — even if the relationship was consensual. The proposed statutes will also ban all advocacy on behalf of LGBT people with imprisonment if five to seven years, while “aiding and abetting” will garner a seven year sentence. Health, counseling, and HIV/AIDS workers fear that their work will be criminalized if they should aid LGBT people because of this proposal. Other proposals would force friends and family members to report LGBT people to police or risk a three year sentence, and criminalize landlords or hotel owners who knowingly rent to gay people with five to seven years’ imprisonment.

Kagwwa warned of the legal implications of all of this:

If passed, this bill will further worsen the access of sexual minorities to health services. The greatest scare for all sexual minorities in Uganda is how to protect themselves from HIV infection and to access treatment for those living with HIV.  Sexual minorities in Uganda are already excluded from mainstream HIV and AIDS interventions. We are not able to readily access relevant health care and information. This bill makes this exclusion worse by proposing the death penalty for HIV positive homosexual Ugandans. If it is passed, most homosexual Ugandans will not be brave enough to seek the medical care that any human being needs and deserves. This provision also leaves a lot of room for malicious blackmail and venomous attacks and it threatens to further prevent homosexual Ugandans from voluntarily testing for HIV, and accessing preventive information and treatment.

According to Chris Johnson at DC Agenda, the panel explored several options for opposing the draconian measure. Kaggwa emphasized the importance of local Ugandans’ voices being heard as loudly as international voices:

“It is important that these local, indigenous voices are heard as heavily or as loudly as the international voices,” he said. “We believe that if that voice supplements our own voices, then we will be productive. But if the foreign voices are louder than ours, then I’m afraid that might have a counter-productive effect.”

Karl Wycoff, deputy assistant secretary of state for East African Affairs, testified that the State Department has been working to prevent the bill from being enacted into law:

The introduction of this anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda characterizes just such a moment — one where we must say to our friends who’s friendship we value that together we must stand against injustice, and in this case, injustice against the LGBT community,” he said.

Wycoff noted how the White House in January issued a statement in opposition to the legislation and said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed concerns about the bill with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in addition to publicly opposing the legislation in two speeches.

“Our embassy … has been very active on this subject with representatives of the Ugandan government, with civil society, with local gay and lesbian groups and with others who press for this bill to be dropped,” Wycoff said.

The panel discussed various options for dealing with the proposed law. Rep. Baldwin reminded the panel of Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) proposal to review Uganda’s trade status with the United States. Other options were explored, but reducing funding to Uganda under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was seen by witnesses as inappropriate. Said Christine Lubinski, executive director of the HIV Medicine Association, the program’s $13 billion in aid is “too much of a day-to-day lifeline for too many people.” Cary Alan Johnson, executive director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, however noted that the funds could be “channeled differently” to non-governmental organizations.

Yesterday, more than ninety members of Congress sent separate letters to President Barack Obama and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urging that strong measures be taken to block the bill from becoming law, calling the proposal “the most extreme and hateful attempt by an African country to criminalize their LGBT community.”

[Julius Kaggwa’s written testimony provided to BTB by the American Jewish World Service]

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.