Human Rights in Uganda, Gay and Straight
KPFA Weekend News Host David Rosenberg: The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is concerned about reports that Uganda's infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill could soon be passed by the country's parliament. The bill, which was first introduced in 2009, provoked a huge outcry from governments, religious leaders and the United Nations as well as gay rights and feminist organizations. As a result of the protests, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni shelved the bill. Gay rights activists had hoped that the Ugandan government had seen the error of its ways, but within the last few days the bill has once again come up for debate in the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee and could be voted on in the next couple of days and then be sent to President Museveni's desk for his signature. Cary Alan Johnson is the Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. He says the opposition to the bill is very strong.
Cary Alan Johnson: There's a strong coalition of organizations, not just gay and lesbian rights organizations, but HIV service organizations that know that a piece of legislation like that is gonna push people back into the closet and further away from HIV/AIDS services. Feminist organizations are against the bill. There are human rights organizations against the bill, which includes the death penalty for being gay or lesbian.
KPFA: Uganda's last election was highly contested and there has been a huge outbreak of violence directed against opposition parties and supporters. Johnson says his organization believes that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is being re-introduced into public discourse at this time to take attention away from the very serious political turmoil Uganda finds itself in. Meanwhile, Uganda isn't the only country on the African continent where anti-gay attitudes are prevalent. Johnson says those attitudes are widespread across Africa, but that the situation in Uganda is even worse than in most countries.
Cary Alan Johnson: Unfortunately, more than two thirds of the countries in Africa still have legislation that criminalizes consensual same sex acts. Uganda is the only country, though, that is going further to increase penalties against its citizens who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The provisions of this new piece of legislation are draconian to say the least. As I said, it would make homosexual acts by individuals who are HIV-positive, for example, punishable by the death penalty, even if they are conducted safely, using condoms, and with the full knowledge of both partners.
KPFA: Johnson says that some countries like Mozambique and Cape Verde are trying to move away from imposing penalties on gay behavior, but he says that the countries that still have penalties for homosexual behavior are maintaining them, and he says lots of work has to be done to make sure gay and lesbian countries are included in general human rights discourse in Africa.
KPFA Weekend News Anchor Cameron Jones: As Ugandan MP David Bahati continues to try to push Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act towards a vote in Uganda's Parliament, Uganda's Walk to Work protests against soaring food and fuel prices, which began on April 11th, continue as well. On April 14th, Ugandan Police began firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live ammunition to break up peaceful demonstrations and on April 28th police broke the window of opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye's car, yanked him out, and sprayed tear gas into his face, triggering riots in Uganda's capitol Kampala and other Uganda cities. Uganda's Daily Monitor reports that four weeks of protest have left at least 10 Ugandans dead, 700 arrested, and hundreds injured. KPFA's Ann Garrison has more.
KPFA: Opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye has urged Ugandans to remain calm, but also urged them to continue the nonviolent protests that led to his fourth and most violent arrest near the end of April. The nonviolent, nonpartisan, protest coalition Activists for Change and other Ugandan opposition groups now plan to protest President Yoweri Museveni's inauguration on May 12th, as Museveni prepares to enter his 26th year in office. Gay Uganda, an anonymous blogger whose elegant prose and LGBT rights commentary have won an international following, called Museveni's inauguration a coronation, and wrote, "If you want to condemn the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, please CONDEMN, in the strongest terms possible, the general state of human rights in Uganda. . . . this is time for the GAY MOVEMENT around the world to make COMMON CAUSE with the average citizen of Uganda."
Gay Uganda remains anonymous for his safety's sake, but former Uganda Daily Monitor journalist Peter Otika, a U.S. resident who fled political persecution in Uganda, spoke to KPFA about the range of human rights abuses there:
Peter Otika: After dealing with American leaders and administrations for over two decades, Museveni has learned that he can actually get away with anything, including murder and human rights abuses, as long as he does what the Americans want. In regard to the Anti-Gay Bill in the Ugandan Parliament, Museveni has realized that Americans care more about the gay issue. Not about the dead Ugandans. So he can shoot and kill, he can jail, he can torture any Ugandans as he sees fit, as long as he doesn't touch the gay ones. This is a problem because the gay rights issue is actually tied to universal rights of all Ugandans.
KPFA: Most of the opposition, and you yourself publicly support gay rights, however?
Peter Otika: Like I've always told fellow Ugandans and Americans, human rights is universal, and it's not tied to being gay or not, or actually, not even tied to your nationality or race.
KPFA: If the gay rights community were to press Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other leaders to take as adamant a stand about all human rights, in Uganda, as they have about gay rights, would that be welcomed by the Ugandan opposition?
Peter Otika: Yes, that is what Ugandans are waiting for. We have been under dictatorship funded and armed to the teeth with American taxpayers' money since 1986. We pay taxes in America. We pay taxes in Europe. And our tax money goes to subsidize dictators in Africa like Museveni, and this must stop. President Obama speaks of supporting freedoms in Libya, in Egypt, in Tunisia, but he's quiet when it comes to Uganda. Who does the American leadership do that? Why the double standard? That's my question.
KPFA: Peter, I can't answer, but thank you for speaking to KPFA, and we'll continue watching the situation in Uganda.
Peter Otika: Thank you.