Ugandan minister of ethics shuts down LGBTI anti-discrimination event

On 17 May 2018, on the orders of the minister of ethics and integrity, Ugandan police unlawfully stopped an event for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).  

<p>Gay couple walk down road holding hands</p>In Uganda, LGBTI people are criminalised and face ongoing state sanctioned homophobia. © Corrie Wingate for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Sexual Minorities Uganda, a partner of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, was holding the event in Kampala, as part of the PITCH programme, which focuses on building capacity of local civil society organisations to advocate for equal rights and access to services for key populations affected by HIV.

Christine Stegling, executive director of the Alliance, said: “We strongly condemn the actions of the Ugandan government, which are a blatant disregard for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. The discrimination and stigma LGBTI people face in Uganda affect all areas of their life, including their right to access health services and is a major driver of the HIV epidemic within this community.” 

State interference in civil society

This is the eighth LGBTI event the state has interfered with in less than two years. The narrowing space for civic organising, in particular for the LGBTI community, is of deep concern for community-led organisations who are crucial in the fight for LGBTI rights and in efforts to end AIDS.

Richard Lusimbo, research and documentation officer at Sexual Minorities Uganda and a PITCH advocate, said: “Intimidation and threats from government officials make it so difficult for civil society to even reach out to their constituents. We should be independent and supplementing the work of government, but government is doing everything possible to hinder the work of civil society, which is a huge violation of our rights. 

“Access to HIV services are greatly affected, both for testing and getting on treatment. People are scared they will face discrimination in clinics and be chased away. And the service providers are in a difficult situation, because they never know if their premises will be raided by the police.” 

Homophobia and violence in Uganda

Although the Ugandan Constitution should take precedent over the law and protect the rights and freedoms of all its citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, the reality is that same-sex relationships have been illegal in Uganda since British colonial rule and are currently punishable with a prison sentence. 

Lusimbo said: “The minister of ethics’ actions are gross. His portfolio is clear – to look into ethics and integrity – and what he is doing is the complete opposite. He should be focusing on ensuring people have access to quality services and information, tackling corruption, and ensuring all people’s right to associate and assemble. Instead, he is breaking the law with impunity.”

In recent years, homophobia and violence against LGBTI people has increased and in 2011, David Kato, a gay rights activist and advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda, was murdered in his home. This came just weeks after he won a court victory over a tabloid that called for homosexuals to be killed.

In Uganda, LGBTI activists are incredibly brave people, but it is constitutionally wrong that they should have to live this way. LGBTI people are entitled to the rights and freedoms protected in Uganda’s Constitution, which includes the right to hold events such as IDAHOBIT. The Ugandan government has a responsibility to protect, not deny, these rights.

Solidarity in face of discrimination

<p>The European Union in Uganda raises the rainbow flag to show solidarity with LGBT people.</p>The European Union mission in Uganda is flying the rainbow flag for the first time in Uganda to show solidarity with the LGBTI community, who are refusing to be cowed by yesterday’s events.

The executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, Dr Frank Mugisha, said: “We will not be intimidated. As members of Uganda’s LGBTI community, it is important to remain steadfast and resilient in the demand for the respect of our human rights and dignity, especially in the face of adversity.”