Uganda holds first pride rally after ‘abominable’ anti-gay law overturned
Rights groups are putting pressure on SA to hold an Africa-wide seminar on discrimination and violence that has been postponed several times.
The department of international relations and co-operation says it still plans to host an Africa-wide seminar on violence against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, even though the meeting has been postponed several times since it was first mooted more than a year ago.
Altogether 38 African countries have laws that criminalise homosexuality and in Mauritania, Sudan and Nigeria it is punishable by death. The issue has lately become a political tool for some African heads of state, such as Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. Last week, the Ugandan Constitutional Court rejected a new anti-gay law that would have imposed even more stringent regulations against homosexuality than those already in place.
Rights groups across the continent now accuse South Africa of stalling on the crucial meeting to follow up on a United Nations report titled Discriminatory Laws and Practices and Acts of Violence Against Individuals Based on Their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
“It is essential for policymakers and gatekeepers to have a dialogue with civil society on this issue,” says Tendai Thondhlana, spokesperson for African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (Amsher), based in Johannesburg. “In some countries, governments say violence against sexual minorities doesn’t exist. It is up to us to show them the evidence.”
South Africa, together with Brazil and Norway, was instrumental in passing a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 that led to the report on the issue.
Regional seminars were then held all over the world that fed into the International Conference on Human Rights and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Oslo in April 2013. But none were held in Africa.
In March this year, South Africa’s minister of international relations and co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, told the UN Human Rights Council that the meeting would be held before the end of June this year, but this has not happened.
The international relations and co-operation department’s spokesperson, Nelson Kgwete, responding to written questions from the Mail & Guardian, says: “South Africa is planning to hold the African regional seminar focusing on finding practical solutions for violence and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The objective thereof will be to facilitate an open and constructive dialogue on the issue of discrimination and acts of violence against individuals … and generate greater understanding on the root causes of these challenges. It is key to note that the objective of the seminar is not to create new or special rights.”
Kgwete denies that South Africa is succumbing to pressure from other African countries where anti-homosexual laws are in place.
“South Africa remains a sovereign and democratic state, founded on values of, among others, human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms, nonracialism and nonsexism.
“South Africa conceived and initiated the idea of the regional seminar without pressure from any country, both inside and outside of the African continent,” says Kgwete.
Pepe Julien Onziema, programme director at Sexual Minorities Uganda, told the M&G telephonically that organisations on the continent understand that, in the current climate, there is a lot of pressure on South Africa in the UN Human Rights Council and in the African Union. South Africa also wants to play an important role in issues of trade and security on the continent, he said, but it needs to stick to its prior commitments.
“South Africa at this point needs to take a stand because it has for many years now had laws protecting sexual minorities and has led the process in the past,” he said.
Rights organisation Amsher, together with the Coalition for African Lesbians, said in a statement that, even if not all African states attend the planned seminar, it should go ahead: “The worsening hostility and increasing violence against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression demands accountability,” they said.
In April this year, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – an organ of the African Union – passed a resolution on ending violence against Africans based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, which was seen as a step in the right direction by human rights groups.
By Liesl Louw-Vaudran
8 august 2014
The first time Alfred went to a HIV voluntary testing centre, the healthcare provider did not treat him well. As a gay man, his story is not so rare.
“He [healthcare worker] asked me are you a man or a woman? I answered I am a man. Then he asked me about my parents,” said Alfred, who lives on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia.
“He just looked at me and treated me as if I was a disgrace to my parents. I decided not to go to the health centre after that. Because I do not want to go to a place where I am judged based on my sexual orientation. I am gay and I have sex. So what? ”
Challenges for youth to accessing sexual and reproductive health
Key populations in the HIV epidemic, such as men who have sex with men, sex workers and transgender people, have the same sexual and reproductive health rights as anyone else— the right to have sexual relations free from coercion, to have children and to protect themselves from infection.
Last week’s International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia was an opportunity for young people, especially youth from key populations, including young people living with HIV, to discuss the barriers and challenges they face in accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
During a session moderated by the Athena Network and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, one young panelist Violet Lindiwe, 23, from Malawi, said: “In my community, when you attend HIV testing and family planning, healthcare professionals are likely to judge you because they think you misbehaved and that’s why you are there.”
Myo Minn Htet, a young man from Indonesia, added: “Culture and religious beliefs make it very difficult to talk about sex and to go to sexual and reproductive health services. Moreover discrimination against young key populations make their access to these services more difficult.”
The legal age to attend health centres is also one of the barriers identified by young people. Annie Zamina from Malawi said: “In my country though the legal age to have sex is 16, you cannot go a clinic and ask for contraceptive pills without your parents’ approval. It seems that while the law says you’re old enough to have sex, you are still too young to use contraception or to protect yourself from HIV.”
Young people vulnerable to HIV infection and unwanted pregnancies
According to the UN, globally young people account for 40% of all new HIV infections. Each day, more than 2,400 young people become infected with HIV, and some 5 million young people aged 15–24 live with HIV.
Apart from HIV infection, poor access to sexual and reproductive health and sex education opens the door to many other consequences, such as unintended pregnancies and dropping out of school.
Violet said: “When you listen to me, you may think I have a PhD but in fact, I stopped school when I became pregnant. I have to care for me and my son now. And this is what happens to young women in my community when they get pregnant when still students.”
According to the World Health Organization, linking sexual and reproductive health with HIV services is an approach that has the potential to increase universal access to prevention, treatment, and care services.
This is what Link Up— a programme to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people—is trying to achieve. The project works with young people living with and affected by HIV in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Uganda and is implemented by a consortium of organisations, including the International HIV/Aids Alliance, Global Youth Coalition against Aids, and the Athena Network.
Sexual and reproductive health rights
Reproductive rights only become tangible when reproductive health services that offer a high quality of care are made widely available. Availability includes both affordability and easy access, which also implies a range of services under one roof.
Like Alfred, Rebeccah, a young woman living with HIV from Zimbabwe, was also treated badly the first time she went to a clinic to receive counselling about contraception. She said: “The nurse said she was surprised I was still having sex considering my ‘condition’. And she told me I should abstain from sex since I am HIV positive. I cried a lot in her office and decided not to go to that clinic anymore.”
But Rebeccah, like many other young people, is now getting to grips with her rights. “As a young woman living with HIV, I am sexually active and I have the right to go a clinic for family planning services,” she said. “My status should not be an argument to be denied this service. And I really hope people should not use our status, our sexual orientation or sex work as argument to deny access to healthcare because we need, no, we demand access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.”
Nina Benedicte Kouassi is a member of the Key Correspondents network, which focuses on marginalised groups affected by HIV to report the health and human rights stories that matter to them. The network is supported by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.
Feature image credit: Sheikh Rajibul Islam/International HIV/AIDS Alliance
In-post image credit: Julie Mellin/GYCA
By Nina B. Kouassi
30 July 2014
Judges strike down legislation on a technicality, but activists say homosexuality remains criminal offence under colonial-era laws.
Gay rights campaigners in Uganda and around the world are celebrating a decision by the country's constitutional court to strike down a widely condemned anti-gay law on a legal technicality.
Activists in the courtroom cheered after a panel of five judges ruled on Friday that the speaker of parliament acted illegally when she allowed a vote on the measure despite at least three objections that not enough MPs were in attendance.
"The speaker was obliged to ensure that there was quorum," the court said in its ruling. "We come to the conclusion that she acted illegally."
While celebrating the ruling, activists warned that homosexuality remained a criminal offence in the east African country under colonial-era laws.
The fiercely controversial statute represented a dramatic toughening of the penalties. It banned the "promotion of homosexuality" and enabled life sentences to be imposed for various same-sex acts, including touching in public or living in a same-sex marriage. Activists also warned the state could appeal against the ruling in the supreme court and legislators might try to reintroduce new anti-gay measures.
President Barack Obama described the legislation as "a step backward for all Ugandans", and several donors suspended aid. But Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, signed it into law in February, watched by cheering crowds. Asked about homosexuality on CNN, Museveni said: "They're disgusting. What sort of people are they? I never knew what they were doing. I've been told recently that what they do is terrible. Disgusting."
The challenge to the law was brought by 10 petitioners, including academics, journalists, both ruling party and opposition MPs, human rights activists and rights groups. They claimed that it violated the constitutional right to privacy and dignity, as well as the right to be free from discrimination and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Friday's ruling was made in a courtroom packed with opponents and supporters of the measure. Among those present was Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who said: "We welcome this ruling and Uganda's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community can celebrate a small victory against oppression.
"However, we are disappointed that the case was not heard on its true merits. The truth is that not only is the anti-homosexuality act persecutory, it is also unconstitutional and illegitimate. This law has no place in our society, which values dignity, privacy and equality for all our citizens. Until the act has been dismissed on the substance of our arguments, we cannot rest easy."
Ugandan lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, a lawyer representing the activists, said the ruling "upholds the rule of law and constitutionalism in Uganda".
Homophobia is widespread in the socially conservative country, where American evangelical Christian groups have been accused of fuelling prejudice. The legislation was seen as a political ploy by Museveni to shore up support before elections in 2016, which will be his 30th year in power.
The court's intervention allows him to blame others for its defeat while also placating western donors, who were reluctant to punish a military ally.
Outspoken anti-gay preacher Martin Ssempa had suggested that the petition was being pushed to mend Uganda's international reputation before Museveni travels to Washington next week to meet Obama at a landmark US-Africa summit. "There are efforts … to drum up a legal precedent to try to show [Washington] that, 'Hey, we are not that bad on homosexuality,'" Ssempa told Agence France-Presse this week.
The US last month froze some aid programmes, as well as cancelling military air exercises and barring entry to the US for specific Ugandan officials involved in "human rights abuses", including against the gay community.
Rights groups claimed that the law had led to a sharp increase in arrests and assaults on members of the gay and lesbian community. Its annulment was welcomed by the Human Dignity Trust, an organisation of international human rights lawyers challenging anti-gay laws across the world.
Jonathan Cooper, its chief executive, said: "It's a fantastic victory for the rule of law. That Uganda's gay and lesbian community has won a reprieve today from the oppression of the loathsome anti-homosexuality act, we can only celebrate.
"The brilliance and determination of the activists who have pursued this challenge serve as an inspiration to us all. It is also heartening to know that the rule of law has prevailed and politicians are shown not to be above the procedures that govern them.
"However, this is but a temporary fix; the fight is far from over. The international community must seize this opportunity to support Ugandan's gay and lesbian citizens in their battle for the basic freedom from persecution. Now the act has gone, we must do all we can to stop it coming back. Uganda's constitution – which protects citizens' rights to privacy and dignity – must be for all Ugandans."
Dr Paul Semugoma, a Ugandan gay rights activist based in South Africa, said: "I am over the moon. Very happy. But we have had legal victories before. It was struck down on a technicality. It may return.
"In Uganda, homophobia is such an inherent part of culture now that opportunistic politicians are likely to bring it back. They would pass it."
Sarah Jackson, deputy regional director of Amnesty International, said: "Even though Uganda's abominable anti-homosexuality act was scrapped on the basis of a technicality, it is a significant victory for Ugandan activists who have campaigned against this law.
"Since it was first being floated in 2009, these activists have often put their safety on the line to ensure that Ugandan law upholds human rights principles.
"We now hope that this step forward translates into real improvements in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Uganda, who have been trapped in a vicious circle of discrimination, threats, abuse and injustice for too long."
Kosiya Kasibayo, a state attorney, said that a decision had not been made on whether to appeal against the ruling in the supreme court.
By David Smith
1 August 2014
The Constitutional court is today expected to rule whether to strike down or uphold the Anti-Homosexuality Act, derided by the West but hugely popular in Uganda.
The petitioners include Prof Joe Oloka-Onyango, MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, Andrew Mujuni Mwenda, Prof Morris Ogenga Latigo, Dr Paul Nsubuga Semugooma, Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesera, Julian Pepe Onzimema, Frank Mugisha and the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum. In their March 2014 petition, they claim the anti-homosexuality law, passed by Parliament on December 20, 2013, is "draconian" and "unconstitutional."
On Wednesday, the petition came up for hearing before Justices Steven Kavuma, Solomy Balungi Bossa, Augustine Nshimye, Eldad Mwangusya, and Rubby Opio Aweri.
Nicholas Opiyo, one of the petitioners' lawyers, said the law was illegal because Parliament passed it without quorum. He argued that passing a law without quorum contravened rule 23 of the parliamentary rules of procedure, and Articles 2(1) & (2), 88 and 94(1) of the Constitution.
Opiyo said on the day the Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi warned Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga about the lack of quorum.
"The rules of Parliament provide that once it's brought to the attention of the speaker that there is no quorum, he/she should stand over the session such that a count is done and if it's found that indeed there's no quorum the session is adjourned. But the speaker did none of the above," he said.
Caleb Alaka, another lawyer for the petitioners, said on the day the law was passed, Hatwib Katoto, the Katerera MP, asked Mbabazi why he was opposing the law's passage yet many laws had been passed without quorum.
"My lord, here is a member of Parliament saying that it's normal for the Parliament of Uganda to pass laws illegally. The Hansard will bear us out on this one," Alaka said.
In reply, Principal State Attorney Patricia Mutesi asked court to dismiss the petition. Mutesi contended that the petitioners had failed to adduce evidence that there was no quorum when the act was passed."It's very clear that this is a matter of fact; so, it requires evidence. When an allegation of fact is made, it requires evidence to support it, which has not been done," she said. Mutesi agreed with petitioners that Kadaga did not ascertain if there was quorum but she insisted that it could not be a ground to nullify the act.
"In the circumstances, it would be unfair for this honourable court to find that there was no quorum since it has not been proved that there was no quorum. What has been produced is just a Hansard which doesn't show how many MPs were in the session that day…They should have produced a register," she said.
Mutesi contended that the court could not interpret Articles 21, 22, 88 and 94, as requested by the petitioners, in the absence of evidence to prove the alleged lack of quorum.
"We conclude that, for this court to come to the conclusion that there was no quorum, it would be speculation. Even failure to ascertain whether there was no quorum cannot imply that there was no quorum," she concluded.
However, Alaka maintained that the act should be nullified since Kadaga flouted rule 23 of parliamentary rules and procedure. The rule requires that before the speaker puts an issue to a vote, she must first ascertain whether there's quorum or not.
When President Museveni assented to the act in February, angry donors withdrew their aid, citing a violation of individuals' rights.
By Derrick Kiyonga
1 August 2014