Uganda: Assault on human rights

On 10 September, two Ugandan LGBTI activists, Georgina (aka Oundo George) and Brenda (aka Kiiza) were taken into custody by two men in plain clothes who identified themselves as police officers. The two activists were held illegally for one week, were denied any legal representation, denied bail and never brought before a judge. Under both Ugandan and International law the detention was illegal…

Article 3.9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that, “anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge.” Article 23 of the Ugandan Constitution requires that an arrested person must appear before a judge within 48 hours of arrest.

Georgiana and Brenda were tortured by the police who demanded they provide the names and addresses of other Ugandan LGBTI activists. Both activists were accused of “spreading homosexuality” and following their release on 17 September are required to report to the police daily. What happened to Georgiana and Brenda is part of a persistent five-year campaign of harassment of LGBTI people in the country including 12 arrests.

Authorities have harassed LGBT human rights defenders in their homes and in public and fined a private radio station that broadcast a program on HIV-prevention among men who have sex with men. In July 2005, Uganda’s Parliament passed an amendment to the constitution making Uganda only the second country in the world to use its supreme law to outlaw marriage between people of the same sex. In 2007, a coalition of religious leaders marched through the streets of Kampala demanding the arrests of LGBT people with one cleric even calling for the “starving to death” of homosexuals. Buttressed by the official homophobia of the state, the Ugandan media has published lists of gay men and lesbians, leading to physical violence, loss of employment and the curtailing of educational opportunities for those LGBT people who were named.

Following the arrest of Georgiana and Brenda, five members of SMUG, knowing they were a target of the police and fearing further arrests, had to escape from Uganda and are now all forced to live in exile.

From legislating against homosexuality to the length of women’s skirts, the Ugandan government is obsessed with policing the private lives of consenting adults at the expense of human rights. They are also now promising to publish the names and addresses of sexworkers and legislate on women’s dress.

‘We are meeting together with the attorney general to amend the laws on homosexuality. The laws have loopholes and are weak. We want also to find out which foreign organizations are funding the homosexuals in the country,’ Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo.

‘We want to shame these prostitutes who are doing the business, including those who are running brothels,’ he said.

‘Women of 60 years and below are putting on mini-skirts and this is crazy. The mini-skirt can cause an accident when you are sitting with a woman in a car. Men while driving gaze out when they see these women and this causes accidents,’ he said.

Two years ago, the Ugandan paper, Red Pepper, published the names of gays and lesbians. Instead of focusing on violence against women, child labour and sexual abuse, the Government’s latest assault is a misogynist attack on women which blames them for causing car accidents. All of these attacks, against the LGBTI community, sexworkers and women show a government and religious leadership in a state of crisis and fear of losing control over women’s bodies and in particular a fear of sexuality. All of this is underpinned by this thing they call “our culture”.

Culture is not viewed as a construct, in constant change or for that matter static. It is not even historical but rather something constructed on a subjective set of myths from the past which bear little meaning in the present except to oppress women and anyone who dares express difference in terms of their sexuality, dress and ideas. It attacks youth and change unless that change is in the interest of the keepers of “our culture” invariably men and invariably followers of those very “unAfrican” religions, Christianity and Islam.

The fear is based on who has control over whose bodies, who has the right to have sex with whom and how. Whilst women are attacked as sexworkers and for wearing mini-skirts by the political and religious leadership, the same men can be seen cruising secondary schools and universities with gifts for any of the young girls and women they can persuade to get in their cars. The same men who freely impregnate the young vulnerable women who work as domestic labour in their homes.

This is not just a Ugandan problem, the whole continent is obsessively filled with a fanatical religious fervour that attacks the human rights and individual freedoms of everyone under the two mantras of culture and religion. This is everyone’s problem and we all need to join in the campaign and challenge this religious moralizing and cultural fascism.

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