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We must act to protect LGBTIQ+ Ugandans, activists plead at UN side event

News 21.07.2023

The international community must speak out against the repression of LGBTIQ+ individuals in Uganda, civil society activists and a UN expert said during an event organised by Right Livelihood.

The panel discussion was held as a side event of the 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council and focused on the impact of Uganda’s anti-LGBTIQ+ law, the so-called “Anti-homosexuality Act”, which was passed on May 30, 2023, by President Yoweri Museveni.

One of the most brutal laws of its kind, the panellists highlighted the legislation’s widespread repercussions.

In particular, they cited its ability to influence neighbouring countries to adopt similar bills, as well as its devastating impact on sexual and gender-diverse persons’ safety, healthcare access and housing opportunities.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, explained how Uganda has manipulated the law to act as a political instrument.

“As a fundamental democratic tool, the law is not only supposed to reflect the will of the majority but it is also meant to protect the rights of minorities,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

“Laws and democratic processes can also be conceived as tools for political profit… All over the world, we see how narratives concerning [LGBTIQ+ peoples’] lives are utilised to galvanise political bases.”

The political narratives used to demonise and repress LGBTIQ+ in Uganda have had terrible consequences. According to 2015 Right Livelihood Laureate Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, the situation has never been worse.

“If Uganda is not dealt with seriously, other countries are going to follow suit and we are going to see a genocide in Africa,” she said.

However, the law does not only harm LGBTIQ+ people. As Nabagesera explained, it also prosecutes people, including friends, family and even landlords, for not reporting homosexual activity.

“This law is also affecting our families, our employees, our doctors, our children. So the issue is, what is the international community doing to do to hold Uganda accountable?”, said Nabagesera.

Cameron Kakande, co-founder and Executive Director of People Like Us, expanded on how the law specifically obstructs LGBTIQ+ individuals’ right to health and medical treatment.

“As a peer educator, I cannot hold any trainings on HIV and I cannot produce materials because producing literature for training purposes is regarded as promotion [of the LGBTIQ+ community],” they said. 

“For example, in Buddo, some of the health workers working in an outreach programme were attacked by the community. They said these health service providers are enablers of homosexuality. This puts the health service providers in fear of caring for the LGBT community.” 

Tragically, the injustice and fear faced by Ugandans, the LGBTIQ+ community and beyond, are likely to spread beyond the country’s borders.

“There are regional if not global implications of this bill,” said Gurchaten Sandhu, Director of Programmes at ILGAWorld.  

“We have already seen this in Kenya, Tanzania, we have seen this in Ghana. Rumours in Nigeria, Niger…not only in African regions but in Asia too.”

Luckily, the international community, including civil society actors and activists, can still act to reverse this law and keep its dangerous repercussions from spreading.

Addressing government actors and aid organisations directly, Nabagesera highlighted the importance of tracking the true beneficiaries and final destination of all donations.

“It’s high time that our donors go back to the drawing board and look through the inclusivity and accountability policies of the funding they send to our country,” she said.

Speaking to civil society members and activists, Sandhu reiterated that “public pressure and advocacy can work”.

“They can involve themselves in public statements, condemnations and raising the issue in bilateral and multilateral forums …they can facilitate dialogues among governments, civil society and religious leaders and other stakeholders to promote respect and tolerance for LGBTIQ+ individuals like we are doing now.”

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