27 May 2014

Uganda: Human Rights Report Cites Anti-Gay Deaths, Violence

A Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report says five months after the anti-homosexuality law was passed, the gay community in Uganda has endured an upsurge in violence.

The recently released report states that since December 2013, one suspected gay person has been killed, 17 arrested, while others have been evicted from their homes. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was passed by parliament last December and signed into law in February this year.

The joint report by the two well-known international human rights groups is reportedly based on interviews of 38 directly- affected individuals and eight gay Ugandans in Kenya, who fled the country between January and March 2014, among other stakeholders. The new law, the report notes, is being used to hunt down, expose, demean and suppress Uganda's gay people.

According to the report, 10 gay people have been evicted by landlords due to their sexual orientation. Rose L (not real name) was allegedly evicted on March 6, after being listed as a lesbian in a local tabloid. Jay, another homosexual, says he was evicted in mid-March after he appeared on television at a press conference held by a gay rights group.

"My landlady called me and said, 'Jay, now we have proof that you people are gay... So I'm giving you one week to get out of the house'," Jay reported.

The report also claims that one transgender woman was attacked and killed in Kampala. It further states that at least 17 people have been arrested for allegedly being gay since the bill was passed. In some cases, the report says, people have been arrested simply on suspicion of appearing to be gay or lesbian.

Woman arrested:

The report claims that on December 20, 2013, just hours after the bill was passed - although it had not yet become law - a police officer arrested Beyonce K, a transgender woman, as she was walking down a Kampala street.

"The police [man] grabbed me and asked, 'Are you a man or a woman?'"

Beyonce K says the cop threatened to have her burnt before pushing her into a male cell at a police station. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International further claim that more than 100 gay people have sought asylum outside Uganda, mainly Kenya.

The new law provides for sentences of life in prison for some same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults, and also criminalises "promotion" of homosexuality. On April 4, the police raided the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, a US-funded HIV research and treatment centre that provides health information and services to gay people. The police claimed the centre was "recruiting" people into homosexuality.

As a result of the law, some organisations that support gay people to access services such as HIV testing, condoms, and lubricants, have scaled down. TASO, Uganda's largest HIV/Aids organization, has, according to the report, suspended its 'Moonlight clinics,' through which it conducted outreach to men who have sex with men (MSM) and other vulnerable groups.

Shortly after the law came into force, the minister of Health, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, declared that gay people would not be discriminated against in health service delivery. However, the report suggests otherwise.

"As long as the Anti-Homosexuality Act remains in force, the ministry of Health cannot make credible assurances that health care will be provided to gay people without discrimination," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's Eastern Africa deputy regional director.

The report talks of six suspected gay people being fired from their jobs in the last five months.

"The boss told me to go because he found out my sexual orientation. He told me I'm putting his business at risk," says one girl who claims she was fired from her restaurant job on March 12.

Neela Ghoshal, senior sexual minority (LGBT) rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in the report that the Ugandan law is "creating homelessness and joblessness, restricting life-saving HIV work, and bloating the pockets of corrupt police officers who extort money from victims of arrest."

In March, some Ugandan activists filed a petition in the Constitutional court, seeking to annul the law, which they say violates the Constitution.

In addition, last month the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law filed a suit at the East African Court of Justice, arguing that the Ugandan law violates provisions of the East African Community Treaty on good governance, rule of law, and social justice.

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