A Ugandan cabinet minister has raided a workshop run by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in Entebbe, prompting Amnesty International to call on the government to end its harassment of people involved in lawful activities.
Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo, accompanied by police, announced on Feb. 14 that the workshop was illegal and ordered the rights activists out of the hotel where it was being held. Lokodo told activists that if they did not leave immediately, he would use force against them, according to a report from Amnesty International.
“This is an outrageous attempt to prevent lawful and peaceful activities of human rights defenders in Uganda,” said AI security general Salil Shetty.
The minister, who is a Catholic priest, also attempted to arrest Kasha Jacqueline Nabagasera, a prominent LGBT rights activist and winner of the 2011 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The activist was forced to flee from the hotel.
“The government of Uganda must protect all people against threats, violence and harassment irrespective of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” Shetty said.
The raid occurred days after the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was re-tabled in the Ugandan Parliament. The government has sought to distance itself from the bill, stating that the bill did not enjoy leadership support.
“The government’s claimed opposition to the bill needs to be supported through their actions. The Ugandan government must allow legitimate, peaceful gatherings of human rights defenders, including those working on LGBT rights,” Shetty.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill would increase the punishment to life in prison for gay-related offenses. Anyone failing to report to the authorities a person they knew to be gay would also be liable to prosecution.
Under the revised bill, those found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” – defined as when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a “serial offender” – would no longer face the death penalty.
A parliamentary committee recommended the revision, after the original legislation was condemned by Western leaders, including Barack Obama who described it as “odious” and threatened to cut off aid to Uganda.
The bill was first introduced in 2009.
In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 was introduced in Parliament in October 2009. The bill targets lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Ugandans, their advocates, and those who know someone LGBT. It would reaffirm existing penalties for homosexuality and introduce sweeping new criminal provisions. Some of these troubling provisions include: imprisonment for life for anyone convicted of the “offence of homosexuality”; punishment for the “promotion of homosexuality” with prison terms; imprisonment for up to three years for anyone who fails to report to the authorities LGBT people or LGBT human rights defenders they know; and most egregiously, the application of the death penalty to anyone in Uganda who has consensual same-sex relations repeatedly or who has consensual same-sex relations and is HIV positive. If this bill were to pass, it would be a devastating blow to the human rights of all Ugandans and would significantly impede effective HIV prevention and care.
The week of Feb. 1, a bipartisan group of members of Congress proposed resolutions condemning the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The House resolution, H.R. 1064, sponsored by Howard Berman (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), received 39 cosponsors. The Senate resolution, S.R. 409, sponsored by Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), currently has four co-sponsors. The House resolution extends beyond Uganda to call on all nations to reject laws that criminalize homosexuality.
Public pressure is needed to ensure that both resolutions come up for a vote. Condemnation by the U.S. government is one of many factors that could persuade Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to prevent the bill from becoming law. If the resolutions pass, the U.S. Congress will join President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in sending the government of Uganda a unified message that passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill will have serious consequences to its relationships internationally.
Go to salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1870/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=2209 to register your support directly with your congressional representative.
International Gay and Lesbian Human Commission