Arrests of Gay Men Have Begun in Uganda
International Gay and
Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), November 1, 1999
Kamal Fizazi, Regional Program Coordinator: Africa and Southwest Asia
UGANDA Arrests of gay men have begun in Uganda,
following a recent statement by President Yoweri Museveni that he would order
police to "lock up" homosexuals, reports the San Francisco based
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). In the wake of
Musevenis statement, IGLHRCs Kamal Fizazi, Regional Program Coordinator
for Africa and Southwest Asia, visited Uganda and met with gay men. "Some
men have gone into hiding in fear of arrest," Fizazi said.
Museveni was recently quoted in the state-owned newspaper New Vision as
saying: "I have told the CID [Criminal Investigations Department] to look
for homosexuals, lock them up, and charge them." The statement followed
press reports, apparently false, of a marriage ceremony between two gay men in
a suburb of Kampala.
According to Fizazi, "Authoritarian leaders like Museveni demonize
homosexuality hoping to shore up their political support. This intolerance
will spread until it is recognized for what it isa threat to democracy and
fundamental human rights."
IGLHRC has received reliable reports that one individual is being held in
Luzeira Prison outside the capital, Kampala. Other reports indicate that at
least five others may also now be jailed under Ugandas laws banning sex
"against the order of nature." Fizazi is maintaining contact with
Ugandan activists and urges those who are concerned to wait before taking
actions which, though well intentioned, might have the inadvertent effect of
"Any arrest based on sexual orientation is in flagrant disregard of
international human rights precedent," said Jaime Balboa, IGLHRCs
Director of Public Education. "By mobilizing its police to arrest gay
people, Uganda is locating itself well outside the norms of the international
human rights community," he continued.
"Ugandan law punishes same-sex love with life imprisonment," said
Fizazi. "Under this harsh law, even individuals who elude imprisonment
face constant fear, stigmatization, and the threat of extortion by the
police," he continued.
IGLHRCs mission is to protect and advance the human rights of all people
and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual
orientation, gender identity or HIV status.
UGANDA: BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Recent years have seen a wave of intolerant public statements on
homosexuality by African political leaders. 1n 1995, President Robert Mugabe
of Zimbabwe banned gay and lesbian participants from an international book
fair; he has reiterated his opposition to homosexuality on numerous subsequent
occasions, calling gays and lesbians "people without rights" and
"worse than dogs and pigs." Politicians in Botswana, Namibia, and
Zambia have adopted similar public stances. Following Musevenis statement,
Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi also declared that he would combat the
"scourge" of homosexuality.
Musevenis recent statement is not his first foray into
officially-sponsored homophobia. In July 1998, he told reporters, "When I
was in America some time ago, I saw a rally of 300,000 homosexuals. If you
have a rally of 30 homosexuals here, I would disperse it."
The heavy-handed repression of homosexual behavior has already roused
debate within Uganda. After witnessing a 1998 news report on the arrest of a
gay man, who was stripped by the police before the cameras to prove he was a
man, a commentator in the opposition newspaper The Monitor wrote that Ugandan
law should "protect every single person from inhuman and degrading
treatment." Such treatment, the commentator declared, "was exactly
what the police were doing."
The person arrested in that case has been detained again in the wake of
Musevenis latest statement.
Responding to Musevenis and Arap Mois recent statements, the Monitor
declared on October 4 that "The presidents attacks on homosexuals are
not based on any sound evidence."
Homosexuals, a columnist in the paper wrote, "should enjoy the same
rights and freedoms as their heterosexual counterparts, including the freedom
from harassment by the state and individuals."
However, despite such opposition, the machinery for denying those rights
remains in place in Uganda. In addition to the law on acts "against the
order of nature," other laws on loitering, "causing a breach of
public peace," or being "idle and disorderly" are used to crack
down on any public evidence of homosexuality or transgender identity in
Paragraph 140 of the Ugandan Penal Code stipulates that "Any person
who has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature" is
subject to life imprisonment. The law dates back to the penal provisions
imposed during the era of British colonialism and was strengthened in 1990 to
increase the penalty from 14 years to life.
All these laws can be used against both men and women. It is unclear which
laws will be used to charge those arrested.
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