In November, we encouraged you to join us in protesting a proposed anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda that threatened to punish gays with the death penalty. Here, we offer an update on the status of that bill from our Africa Program and partners, with more information at the end of the post about what you can do to get involved.
Since our last post on the subject, the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill has drawn much criticism from all over the world. At the 46th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in November, a group of prominent African NGOs passed a resolution to end all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa and specifically denounced the “so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, whose draconian measures would lead to extreme persecution of individuals because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.” The NGO representatives specifically called the Commission’s attention to homophobic attacks on people of different orientation in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, and asked the commissioners to consider sending fact-finding missions to investigate. The Commission reserved the issue for the next session, to be held this May, and announced its decision to adopt an official position on LGBT rights by then.
But this isn’t the only place the bill’s been denounced. We’ve learned that President Museveni assured top US officials that he won’t support a bill with the death penalty. International donors have threatened to withdraw HIV prevention funds from Uganda if the bill passes. The death penalty may or may not have been or be removed. The White House condemned it. Gordon Brown and Stephen Harper condemned it. Hillary Clinton condemned it. Prominent church leaders all over the world, including the World Council of Churches and Rick Warren, condemned it. The Vatican even issued a statement opposing “all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation.”
Despite such widespread international outcry, we still don’t know what will happen to the bill, which has not yet been subjected to debate by the Ugandan parliament. The latest statement from President Museveni implies that the bill will remain, but be somehow “softened” to a less extreme position. What we do know is that this bill has gained more international attention and sparked more dialogue about the human rights of LGBTQI Africans than anything we’ve seen in a long time, and that many human rights organizations are taking the opportunity to keep that dialogue open.
In the meantime, the trend of human rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity continue. Just a few weeks ago, two gay men in Malawi were arrested after holding an engagement ceremony, and were denied bail on the same day that a worker for the human rights group defending them was also arrested. Arbitrary arrests and detentions on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation continue in Cameroun. Lesbian and bisexual women are daily threatened with or subjected to corrective rape and sexual violence.
So what remains to be done? While LGBTQI rights in Africa are under extraordinary threat, the intersectionality of human rights and freedom of sexual expression has never been more clear. This is the time that LGBTQI people in Africa need support and solidarity from outside the continent, and help keeping an international advocacy focus on making sure that human rights are enjoyed by all. Keep the international pressure on raising the issues of human rights discriminations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity alive in all available human rights fora. Present petitions at the international level against these violations, and draw attention to states’ accountability to their LGBTQI citizens. And pressure the United Nations and other international organizations to work toward strengthening their obligations to protect and respect the human rights of all citizens.
This post was co-written by Chelsea Ricker and Joseph Sewedo Akoro. Chelsea Ricker is Assistant to the Africa Program for IWHC. You can view her bio here. Joseph Sewedo Akoro is Executive Director of The Independent Project for Equal Rights.