500 days and counting: Progress for girls and women means progress for all
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's Boko Haram militant group kidnapped 100 people earlier this month but most were freed by security forces from neighbouring Chad, a Nigerian security official and a local self-defence member said Friday.
The abductions took place on Aug. 10 in Doron Baga in the Kukawa area near the border with Chad, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
He said the terrorists were stopped as they crossed the Chad border by Chadian soldiers who killed most of them and set free most of the captives.
Muhammed Gava, a member of the anti-Boko Haram vigilante movement, said 20 females and about 70 young men had been forced to board speed boats in Lake Chad, which lies on the border between Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
Nigeria's fight against the extremist group began in 2009 but hit the international spotlight in mid-April, when the militants kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls. The girls have still not been freed.
Boko Haram wants to enforce an Islamic state in Nigeria, whose population of more than 170 million people is almost evenly divided between a mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south.
The group has intensified its violent campaign this year and is increasingly targeting civilians. More than 4,000 people — mostly civilians — have been killed this year alone by all sides in the conflict, which include Nigerian security forces, Amnesty International said on Aug. 5. This compares to an estimated 3,600 people killed in the first four years of the Islamic insurgency.
While the group's attacks are mostly in northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram has detonated bombs as far away as Lagos, the commercial capital in Nigeria's southwest.
16 August 2014
By Haruna Umar
During the 2014 International AIDS conference, The Lancet medical journal released a series of articles focused exclusively on HIV and sex work. One study by Kate Shannon et al., demonstrates that decriminalization of sex work could reduce HIV infections by 33 to 46 percent over the next decade. Shannon’s team showed that “multi-pronged structural and community-led interventions” are essential to promoting the human rights of sex workers, as well as improving their access to HIV prevention and treatment. Dr. Chris Beyrer, the researcher who coordinated this Lancet series, told AIDS conference participants that“[e]fforts to improve HIV prevention and treatment by and for people who sell sex can no longer be seen as peripheral to the achievement of universal access to HIV services and to eventual control of the pandemic,” drawing an irrefutable line between the social, legal, and economic injustices sex workers face and their subsequent vulnerability to HIV.
The Lancet series authors join many other prominent public health voices in identifying the decriminalization of sex work as vital to preventing the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). For two decades, sex workers rights’ activists throughout the world have pushed human rights, public health, and HIV and AIDS response leaders to recognize that they, along with people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men, are “key populations” without whom an effective HIV and AIDS response is impossible. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that “all countries should work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers.” In South Africa (with the largest population of people living with HIV in the world), the National AIDS Council is urging its government to decriminalize sex work—a demand that advocates and health policy professionals are making in dozens of other countries as well. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law all endorse this position. The latter points out “the impossibility of governments stigmatizing people on one hand, while simultaneously actually helping to reduce their risk of HIV transmission or exposure on the other.”
Sex work has been decriminalized in New Zealand and one province (New South Wales) in Australia leaving sex work businesses subject to standard occupational health and safety regulations. Law enforcement treats the sale of sex as it does any other business, without any intrusion or interruption unless existing laws are being violated.
Decriminalization has resulted in higher rates of condom use and enables sex workers to organize community-based health practices that demonstrably improve health and reduce HIV risk. It also makes it possible for sex workers to report and for the police to address illegal acts as they occur, such as assault, theft of services, employment of minors, or client coercion. In this decriminalized setting, sex workers can be strong allies in the fight against trafficking, intimate partner violence, and child abuse since they can report incidents to the police and social service agencies without putting themselves at risk of arrest.
So, why is the HIV-AIDS field only just beginning to recognize the connection between the decriminalization of sex work and HIV? And why is the trend toward criminalizing populations involved in the sex trades increasing in the United States—moving in the opposite direction from other countries? The following are three contributing factors.
Public debate around sex work in the United States increasingly focuses on people who have been trafficked or otherwise coerced into the sex trade. Anti-trafficking advocates conflate sex work (people choosing to sell sexual services from among employment options available to them) with trafficking (people being forced into the sex industry against their will). Laws that criminalize all people selling sex (voluntarily or involuntarily) violate the rights of the former and undermine efforts to identify and assist the latter. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law states unequivocally that, “Sex work and sex trafficking are not the same. The difference is that the former is consensual, whereas the latter is coercive.”
A commentary by Steen et al. in the recent Lancet series notes that “repressive and counterproductive police action,” including the arrest and incarceration of trafficking victims for the purposes of “rescue,” has overtaken far more effective responses in several countries. The understandable, but destructively over-simplified, mandate to “rescue and restore” sex workers is also being imposed in public health settings where providers are now charged with identifying and intervening with potential victims of trafficking in the sex trade. Certainly, health-care providers have a duty to watch for and help patients in abusive situations of all kinds. They also have a duty to understand the complexities of human experience, respond to patient-identified needs, and maintain that patients are experts of their own lives, whatever that may look like.
Providing access to health-care services targeted to consumers’ needs is a vital part of any country’s HIV response. Without it, those most in need of prevention, care, and treatment are least likely to get it.
In a 2010 survey, 53 percent of medical students said they were not adequately trained to address their patients’ sexual issues comfortably. Far fewer professional medical curricula explicitly prepare students to understand that they will encounter sex workers as patients who, like all other patients, are individuals with a wide range of experiences, backgrounds, and needs that can best be treated with patient-centered care.
When sex workers receive demeaning and unprofessional treatment in health-care settings, they see health-care providers as an extension of the larger system that criminalizes them. A survey by the New York City-based Persist Health Project found that few sex workers disclosed their occupation to their health-care provider; only one study participant reported a positive experience after doing so. As one respondent explained, “I think for security reasons, I don’t usually disclose. Mainly because I don’t trust doctors … I sort of treat them like law enforcement.” Another noted that most health-care providers “have no clue who you are, no clue about your background, you can’t read them or know that they’re not going to try to lecture you or give you a stink-eye.”
St. James Infirmary, a peer-based occupational safety and health clinic for sex workers in San Francisco, corroborates these findings. Of their incoming patients, 70 percent had never previously disclosed their occupation to a medical provider for feared of bad treatment. Providing sex-worker friendly health care requires training health-care workers appropriately and supporting services designed specifically with and for the communities they serve.
People usually envision a sex worker as someone soliciting on the street, but only about 20 percent of U.S. sex workers are street-based. The vast majority see clients in other venues including massage parlors, brothels, apartments they share with other sex workers, or a client’s hotel room. Many connect with clients online.
HIV risk is high among street-based sex workers who experience high levels of violence at the hands of clients and abusive law enforcement personnel. One important way they reduce this risk is assessing a potential client before getting into his car—looking for signals that he might be violent and relaying his license number to a colleague in case the worker disappears. This assessment time is also used to negotiate price and condom use. Law enforcement crack-downs compel sex workers to complete their negotiations quickly (in order to avoid arrest), depriving them of the time needed for assessment and negotiation.
Street-based sex workers have little or no protection if a client becomes violent or refuses to use a condom. Of the street-based workers surveyed in The Lancet study by Shannon et al., 25 percent reported being pressured by clients to have sex without a condom. Those working in remote areas (such as industrial parks) to escape local policing were three times more likely to report being pressured into having sex without a condom than the study population overall. The recent Lancet series data also shows that, in some countries, up to one-third of sex workers do not carry an adequate supply of condoms due to “condoms as evidence” policies that allow police to seize a sex worker’s condom supply and use it as evidence of their intent to engaged in sex work—a widely-used policy in several U.S. cities.
Punitive laws against sex work are in place in 116 countries, including the United States, creating, according to the Open Society Foundations, “a state-sanctioned culture of stigma, discrimination, exploitation, and police and client violence against sex workers.”
Decriminalizing sex work in the United States is a long and challenging process, but there is a path to follow. The 1988 ban on federal funding for syringe exchange remained in place for 20 years and, after briefly lifting it in 2009, the Obama administration agreed to its reinstatement in 2011 at Congress’ insistence. Advocacy pressure to overturn it continues.
Thanks to the efforts of dedicated researchers and activists during the two decades between 1988-2009, public health professionals, medical institutions and virtually everyone working in the HIV-AIDS field learned why harm reduction practices are essential. Services to people who use drugs began to improve, although they are still inadequate, primarily because they are grossly under-funded. Progress has been made.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a consensus statement that addressed the need for syringe exchange but also observed that “[p]rograms targeting sex workers have been highly efficacious in other countries, but [in the U.S., programs] will encounter cultural and political barriers.” The public silence maintained on this issue for the last 17 years is emblematic of those barriers.
But sex workers’ rights organizations in most U.S. cities, though heavily marginalized, have not been silent. They are struggling to end “condoms as evidence” practices, train health-care providers, find or establish sex worker-friendly health-care services, and demand their rightful place as invaluable allies in ending human trafficking and preventing the spread of HIV. Like the harm reductionists who set up the first syringe exchange sites in the United States, they need the support of mainstream sexual and reproductive health advocates willing to learn from them and join them. Like the early harm reductionists, they need the rest of us to bring our money, skills, and political support this human rights struggle.
We can’t stop HIV in the United States without sustainable and long-term solutions to end the arrest, detention, and incarceration of sex workers in the United States, as well as end the violations against sex workers within the correctional system. A meta-analysis of more than 800 other studies and reports, published in the recent Lancet series, listed abuse experienced by sex workers as including “homicide; physical and sexual violence, from law enforcement, clients, and intimate partners; unlawful arrest and detention; discrimination in accessing health services; and forced HIV testing.” It added “protection of sex workers is essential to respect, protect, and meet their human rights, and to improve their health and well-being.”
Expert voices in support of community-led, sex worker-centered health care in the fight against HIV are becoming more and more numerous. When will the mainstream HIV and AIDS organizations and women’s health advocacy communities join loudly in this demand?
by Anna Forbes and Sarah Elspeth Patterson
13 August 2014
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
Fears have been raised that the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants earlier this year are being used as suicide bombers.
The speculation has arisen after a number of female suicide bombings in Nigeria's biggest city of Kano, while a ten-year-old girl wearing explosives was also discovered in Katsina state.
The latest attack came on Wednesday when a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a college in Kano, killing six people. According to reports, the bomber was a female teenager.
It was the fourth suicide bombing carried out by a female in the city in the past week.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although militant group Boko Haram, which is fighting for an Islamic state in religiously-mixed Nigeria, has repeatedly bombed Kano as it radiates attacks outwards from its northeast heartlands.
Government spokesman Mike Omeria said security forces arrested three Boko Haram suspects in Katsina state, two of them female, on Tuesday.
One was a 10-year-old girl who had an explosive belt strapped to her by the others, he said.
Using female suicide bombers in the city appears to be a new tactic of Boko Haram, although they have used them on occasion for years in the northeast.
Two female suicide bombers blew themselves up at a trade show and a petrol station in Kano on Monday, killing one other person and injuring at least six others.
On Sunday, a female suicide bomber killed herself but no one else while trying to target police officers.
Concerns have now been raised the militant group is using the schoolgirls kidnapped earlier this year in Chibok in the suicide bombings.
Former education minister Oby Ezekwesili has warned the kidnapped girls may be 'indoctrinated or coerced into being used as suicide bombers', according to the International Business Times.
On Sunday Ms Ezekwesili tweeted: 'This new trend&serial pattern of "FEMALE SUICIDE BOMBERS" surely should PARTICULARLY worry us. It worries me stiff cos of our #ChibokGirls.'
The following day she wrote: 'Kano again and again. Female suicide bombers again and again – becoming trend. Our #ChibokGirls still in the enemy den. Are we THINKING?'
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria has urged the government to investigate the identity of the suicide bombers, the International Business Times reported.
In a statement, it said: 'In the event that these female suicide bombers are identified to have been the same kidnapped girls then the government should immediately deploy all resources and strategies to bring to an end, once and for all, this shameful scenario since the military have repeatedly stated that they are aware of the whereabouts of the kidnapped Chibok girls.'
In a separate incident on Tuesday, two suicide bombers killed 13 people in attacks on two mosques in the town of Potiskum, in Yobe state in the northeast, medical official Bala Afuwa, who received the bodies at a local hospital, told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday.
'Two of my uncles were killed,' said resident Mohammed Abubakar, whose family home is next to one of the mosques that were attacked. 'They had just returned from the mosque.'
President Goodluck Jonathan, who has come under heavy criticism for failing to end the five-year-old rebellion, pledged $500 million on Wednesday towards Nigerians living in states that are worst affected by Boko Haram violence.
Earlier this month kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls who managed to escape from their Islamic extremist captors were reunited with the president.
He heard tales from some of the 57 who escaped after their abduction on April 15 before assuring them of his determination that those still in captivity ‘are brought out alive’.
Around 57 students managed to flee shortly after they were captured, but a committee investigating their disappearance said 219 of the girls are still missing.
According to a mediator working with Boko Haram two of the girls have died of snake bites while around 20 have fallen ill.
Boko Haram is demanding a swap for detained fighters in exchange for the girls.
Most of the schoolgirls are still believed to be held in the Sambisa Forest – a wildlife reserve that includes a mixture of thick jungle and open savannah.
The forest borders on sand dunes marking the edge of the Sahara Desert.
Sightings of the girls and their captors have been reported in neighboring Cameroon and Chad.
Chibok and nearby villages are targets because they are enclaves of staunch Christians in predominantly Muslim north Nigeria.
By James Rush
1 August 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
Eleven parents of abducted Nigerian schoolgirls have died since daughters went missing, as Chibok remains under siege. At least eleven of the parents of the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped 100 days ago have died, as their hometown of Chibok is under siege, residents have reported.
Seven fathers of kidnapped girls were among 51 bodies brought to Chibok hospital after an attack on the nearby village of Kautakari this month, a health worker told AP news agency on Tuesday.
The worker asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals by Boko Haram, an Islamic armed group that claimed responsibility for the mass abduction of the girls.
At least four more parents have died of heart failure, high blood pressure and other illnesses that the community blames on trauma due to the abductions, said community leader Pogu Bitrus.
"One father of two of the girls kidnapped just went into a kind of coma and kept repeating the names of his daughters, until life left him," Bitrus told AP.
No end in sight: Boko Haram's bloody legacy
Chibok is cut off because of frequent attacks on the roads that are studded with burned out vehicles.
Commercial flights no longer go into the troubled area and the government has halted charter flights.
Boko Haram is closing in on Chibok, attacking villages closer to the town, and villagers who survive the attacks are seeking refuge in the town, heightening food and water shortages.
Some of the young women who escaped are recovering, with girls who at first refused to discuss their experience, now talking about it and others thinking of returning to school.
Counselling is being offered to families of those abducted and to some of the 57 students who managed to get away from the kidnappers in the first few days, said a health worker.
A presidential committee investigating the kidnappings said 219 girls still were missing. But the community says there are more because some parents refused to give the committee their daughters' names, fearing the stigma involved.
Following the mass abduction in April, Boko Haram released a video in which they threatened to sell the students into slavery and as child brides.
It also showed a couple of the girls describing their "conversion" from Christianity to Islam.
Residents and parents have criticised the Nigerian government's efforts to recover the girls, but President Goodluck Jonathan insists his government and military are doing everything possible to ensure their release.
The Defence Ministry says it knows where they are but fears any military campaign could lead to their deaths.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a new video released this week repeated his demands that Jonathan release detained members in exchange for the girls, an offer Jonathan has so far refused.