African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams
Report from Kenya #284 – June 20, 2014
The Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda
“Sadly, among the next group of 25 we hope to help who are in hiding, two have committed suicide. On the delivery of the body of one to his parents, the parents burned the body on the streets, disowning him even in death.”
On February 14, 2014, President Museveni of Uganda signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act which legislated the imprisonment of homosexuals for 14 years to life. It also stipulated punishment for anyone supporting homosexuals with jail sentences of 5 to 7 years. The western international community has solidly condemned the Act, but President Museveni, looking towards the February 2016 election, realized it was a popular measure.
What have been the consequences for this since the law went into effect on March 10?
There have been government attacks on organizations which it believes are in support of homosexuality. When the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which includes about 50 groups, filed a petition in court against the law, the organization was de-registered. Moreover, the Refugee Law Project, which housed the coalition, was no longer allowed by the government from entering refugee camps to work with their clients since the organization was accused of promoting homosexuality. On April 3, the Ugandan police raided the offices of the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), “a health clinic and medical research facility in Kampala that provides LGBTI-friendly services” and funded by USAID. One employee was arrested, but later released and the US government temporarily suspended the program “to ensure the safety of staff and beneficiaries, and the integrity of the program.”
In the act, the vague wording on promoting homosexuality has led to landlords evicting tenants, employers firing staff, schools expelling students, and parents denouncing their children as alleged homosexuals. Some employees of HIV/AIDS programs have resigned due to the dilemma between client confidentiality and fear of being accused of aiding homosexuals.
The Ugandan public is clearly supportive of the Act and conducts vigilantism as they enforce the law, as shown in the quote at the beginning of this posting. Here is another:
“In late April, three Catholic universities expelled 109 lesbian women. Of these, 16 from Uganda Martyr’s University were publicly exposed, with the university calling on their parents to denounce their daughters, and turn them over to the police. The 16 immediately went into hiding which was difficult, as they come from smaller towns. Their names were read repeatedly over the radio (Impact Radio) and one of the women’s fathers, an Anglican pastor, went on the radio publicly calling for his community to find his daughter, and have her thrown in prison. The radio station publicly called for the imprisonment, sterilization and castration of all gay/lesbian people in Uganda.”
To respond to the attacks on homosexual Ugandans, Olympia Friends Meeting in Washington state, has initiative a project called “Friends New Underground Railroad”. (See friendsnewundergroundrailroad.org for more information). My quotes come from their webpage. They have three “conductors” who assist homosexuals to flee from Uganda – one conductor has already been severely beaten. In the incident above, “of the 16, three escaped without our assistance, we assisted 12 of them to escape. One disappeared – it is believed she was picked up by the police. The 12 are currently receiving assistance in preparing visa applications.”
Here is another case in which they assisted:
“On April 20th, Easter Sunday, the Bishop of Jinja Diocese – the Rt. Reverend Fr. Charles Wamika – preached a sermon in the Jinja Cathedral. Applauding the new law, he directed Catholic hospitals not to serve LGBT clients, and called for the expulsion of all known and suspected LGBT students from all Catholic schools, colleges and universities. On that very day, the Dean of Students of Uganda Martyr’s Seminary submitted a final report to the Seminary Disciplinary Council on the 22 seminarians “involved in unnatural sexual activities”. Four days later, the 22 seminarians were kicked out, with the Bishop calling on the parents of the seminarians to denounce them. He also forwarded a copy of the final report to the chief of police, who replied that he was launching an “investigation”. The seminarians went into hiding, and, after some delay, all 22 were assisted by Friends New Underground Railroad conductors and are now in Nairobi.”
There is, of course, no due process against alleged homosexuals so that it is possible, even probable, that some people are being falsely accused. In 1997, President Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, eliminated a rival, Canaan Banana, by accusing him of being a homosexual, which he firmly denied with the usual homophobic comments. There is no creditable defense again a false charge of homosexuality since denial is seen only as a survival tactic.
The Friends New Underground Railroad has rescued 100 people from Uganda — the first nine have now received political asylum in Sweden. Yet a large number remain and as time goes on more homosexuals will be denounced and must go into hiding before fleeing the country to survive.
In summary, the Anti-Homosexuality Act is being used by the government to suspend organizations that they don’t like in order to intimidate all non-government organizations. The media is used to denounce specific individuals as occurred during the Rwandan genocide. People are taking the law into their own hands — sometimes even physically attacking people – and those accused must go into hiding and flee the country.
Shortly after the measure was signed into law in Uganda, some Members of Parliament in Kenya floated the idea that Kenya should adopt a similar law. Naturally, the human rights and other non-government organizations condemned the idea. There were numerous commentary and letters to the editor in the papers also condemning it. As of now, perhaps due to the overwhelming problem of insecurity in Kenya, the call for an anti-homosexuality act has died in public discourse.
A new underground railroad is being built. Unfortunately, Kenyan society is also not receptive to homosexuals. The small non-government human rights organizations are already overwhelmed by the number of refugees from Uganda they need to assist. Europe and America are far away and difficult to get in to. With an estimated ballpark figure of 500,000 homosexuals in Uganda, the railroad may soon be overrun with traffic.