Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have joined forces to raise awareness of the near ten-fold increase in violent attacks on LGBTI people in Uganda and the worsening state-sanctioned persecution the community is suffering since Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law passed in December 2013.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty’s research spans several Ugandan towns and includes interviews with a number of people from members of the public to human rights lawyers and refugees, as well as organizations that provide health services. One of the most startling things they found was details of at least 17 arrests on suspicion of violating the anti-homosexuality law since it came into effect earlier in 2014, some of them because the people simply appeared to be LGBTI. That figure might not sound that high, but between 2007-2011, only 23 people in total were arrested for violating Uganda’s existing laws against homosexuality. None of those ended in successful prosecutions.
The new wave of arrests sends a chilling message to Uganda’s entire LGBTI population that the administration is looking for them and will, at the slightest provocation, attempt to prosecute. Yet this isn’t the only real world effect of the law.
Human Rights Watch details how landlords are applying the law to say that not only can they kick out LGBTI tenants, but that they have to so that they aren’t prosecuted. This has meant that nearly all the people interviewed had needed to move house in order to prevent suspicion. In addition, LGBTIs who previously owned businesses have reported being subject to extortion and having their businesses closed down. LGBTI employees have also faced being fired for no other reason than their perceived identity. That’s not all. LGBTIs can’t even afford to get sick, and even when they do, they might not get the treatment they need.
Police raids on HIV-awareness and sexual health clinics — none of which appear to have actually broken any laws but because they have United States and European affiliations are subject to suspicion — have increased considerably. In fact, Uganda’s Simon Lokodo, the Minister for Ethics, has just this month said he intends to close down any and apparently all sexual health clinics that he believes are promoting homosexuality, adding, “We shall just suspend and close the operations of these organisations. We can’t allow them to continue promoting bad morals.” Lokodo has already made good on that promise, with raids of institutions like the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, just one of the casualties in his anti-gay witch-hunt.
The legislation also appears to be putting patients at risk. A trans man who reportedly sought treatment for a fever was questioned about his gender, whereby he was told, “What’s a trans man? You know we don’t offer services to gay people here. You people are not even supposed to be in our community. I can even call the police and report you…You’re not even supposed to be in the country.” The man was eventually forced to pay for the doctor’s silence to the tune of 50,000 Ugandan shillings (just under $20).
Bribery isn’t confined to the medical field, however. Amnesty International and Human Rights watch also found evidence that the police demanded bribes up to $635. Some trans detainees reported being sexually assaulted while in custody and one trans woman with HIV was denied her medication. There were also reports of forced anal exams so as to “confirm” homosexuality.
The report further details that violent assaults against LGBTIs have risen in the country — though official records are sketchy on this, and for good reason. To compound this problem, LGBTIs cannot go to the police to make formal reports, and if they have, they have reported facing homophobic abuse which meant they were unable to take their complaints further.
“The Anti-Homosexuality Act is creating homelessness and joblessness, restricting life-saving HIV work, and bloating the pockets of corrupt police officers who extort money from victims of arrest. Repealing this law is imperative to ensure Ugandans can live without fear of violence and harassment. Within just five months of the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill through parliament, we are seeing its dramatic effects on the health and well-being of LGBTI people,” Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, is quoted as saying.
Two men are awaiting trial, Kim Mukisa, 24, and Jackson Mukasa, 19, after being charged with breaking the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The men, who are the first to be tried under the new law, were arrested in January after fleeing from an anti-gay mob attack. What penalties they will receive remain to be seen, but human rights groups will be watching the situation closely to see how judges in the country interpret the new anti-gay laws and what punishments are ultimately used.
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