Fear & Loathing In Uganda

Christina Engela's picture

On Friday, news came to me that I didn’t like to see. What was it, you may wonder? It seems that a year after Uganda passed a new law to make criminals out of gay people, they are debating an upgrade to this law that will give them far greater power over the private lives of their own people, including the authority to murder people simply for who they are.

The Anti Homosexuality Bill ensures virtual complete authority of the Ugandan government over what people are, think, say, feel or do, where or why they do it, or who they do it with - or who knows about it and doesn't tell.  It goes further to make people who do not act against gay people in a hostile fashion, criminals as well. It in effect makes being born gay, or not thinking the same way bigots do, a very, very dangerous fate indeed.

This obscene and outrageously inhuman law gives flesh to the bones of the meaning behind the saying: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments – governments should be afraid of their people.” Reading the wording of the proposed Bill, I cannot stress the irony behind this strongly enough.

Let’s take a look inside this monstrous device:

“(a) physical sexual activity that docs not necessarily culminate in intercourse and may include the touching of another’s breast, vagina, penis or anus:

(b) stimulation or penetration of a vagina or mouth or anus or any part of the body of any person, however slight by a sexual organ;

(c) the unlawful use of any object or organ by a person on another person’s sexual organ or anus or mouth;"

So now in Uganda they can police who does what with the privacy of their own bodies and even in the privacy of their own homes - and people even found to be friends with gay people or hiring gay people, or "aiding homosexuality" by knowing the identity of gay people – and not reporting them to the authorities, can end up in prison. It seems like a homophobe's dream come true, doesn’t it? I would say it does, considering the overall theme of the anti-gay movement seems to be a fear that sex could lead to dancing - and well, just plain fear.

This is the continuation and formalization of am ongoing witch-hunt. It is the precursor to a genocide. Is the UN and the world going to do anything about it, or are they just going to sit on the sidelines like they have been with Iran, Iraq and Jamaica?

"(2) A person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality shall be liable on conviction to suffer death."

"Aggravated homosexuality" refers to a gay person who is HIV positive. Now enforced testing will also be legal.

"4, Attempt to commit homosexuality.

(1) A person who attempts to commit the offence of homosexuality commits a felony and is liable on conviction to imprisonment seven years.

(2) A person who attempts to commit the offence of aggravated homosexuality commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life."

So now just BEING gay is a crime in Uganda. Even attempting to have a relationship is criminal and can have fatal consequences. Even people knowing your sexual orientation is a potential death sentence. This is enforcement of fear and intimidation, and oppression in every sense of the word.

However, aside from the above insult to human rights, the following:

"5. Protection, assistance and payment of compensation to victims of homosexuality.

(1 ) A victim of homosexuality shall not be penalized for any crime commuted as a direct result of his or her involvement in homosexuality.

(2) A victim of homosexuality shall be assisted to enable his or her views and concerns to be presented and considered at the appropriate stages of the criminal proceedings.

(3) Where a person is convicted of homosexuality or aggravated homosexuality under sections 2 and 3 of this Act, the court may, in addition to any sentence imposed on the offender, order that the victim of the offence be paid compensation by the offender for any physical, sexual or psychological harm caused to the victim by the offence.”

(4) The amount of compensation shall be determined by the court and the court shall take into account the extent of harm suffered by the victim of the offence. the degree of force used by the offender and medical and other expenses incurred by the victim as a result of the offence."

So homosexuality is now an offence by nature of being, and “obviously” nobody would ever consent to being in a gay relationship without “force” being used, meaning there is naturally, a “victim” and a “perpetrator. How neat.

“2) Definitions of “sexual orientation”, “sexual rights”, “sexual minorities”, “gender identity” shall not be used in anyway to legitimize homosexuality, gender identity disorders and related practices in Uganda."

So no recognition at all is given to scientific fact of sexual orientation or gender identity, or the fact that they are not one and the same, but in fact, two distinctly separate issues. Thus, not only gay, lesbian and bisexual people are criminalized and classified by this obscenity, but so are the transgender and presumably also the intersex. All of whom are also classified together as one group under “homosexuality”. Thus, claiming to be - or being - any one of the GLBTI sub-groups is considered “legitimizing homosexuality”, which is also a crime under this law.

Have I not been saying that our enemies view us all as one group? Have I not been pleading for us to stand together and to stop our petty in-fighting over trite little disagreements and differences of opinion? And here it is – our enemies give us confirmation that they see us all as one group – whom they hate so much they are willing to put it into law and to use it to exterminate us through it.

We are one group – and it is time we started to realize it, think like it, and to act like it. We can’t afford to be divided anymore.

Can anybody tell me why is Uganda still allowed to trade with civilized countries? Why is this disgusting haven for human rights abusers allowed any measure of diplomatic relations or recognition? Why are the architects of this human rights atrocity not being hauled before a criminal court for crimes against humanity? Why is South Africa still cozying up to them? How interesting that they consider themselves a "Christian nation"! That being said – if that is Christianity, then as far as I’m concerned, they can shove it.

If you think your religion calls you to hate other people, then perhaps either you have the wrong religion - or you have your religion wrong.

Imposing these draconian punishments on private, consensual conduct means the government can interfere directly in the intimate lives of its people, and make criminals of anyone on a whim. This is tyranny in its worst form.

People who complain that proposed laws which protect gay and trans people from hate crime, call these laws “thought crime” laws, harking to the Orwell novel “1984” - meaning that people can be charged for just thinking hateful thoughts and not just acting on them and that they object to these laws because it would prevent them from attending their "religious duty" to vent hatred and incite it against gay and trans people. I find it odd that these same groups remain strangely silent when they see the true manifestation and embodiment of “thought crime” and the manifest precision and calculation which has gone into it – barren of good intentions, human warmth or compassion.

I have been torn about what action to take. Just asking the government of Uganda to stop isn't going to change their minds - nor will impassioned pleas. After all, people have been wailing out of sorrow, suffering and misery in that sorry excuse for a “democracy” for over a decade and they have closed their ears to that.

People have been seeking asylum in other countries for years now, for fear of violence and even death upon their return to their home country, and this has done nothing – NOTHING – to sway them from this path of hatred and attrition they have chosen for their nation.

I approached several international figures and GLBTI rights leaders over the weekend about an international ban on Ugandan goods, personalities and services as there is currently on Jamaica, and they agree in principle, pending input from SMUG in Uganda. I feel it is wise to consult the group most directly affected by this abuse of human rights and dignity- the pink community in Uganda itself. After all, who will suffer the backlash if external action is taken? By now however, I think it is abundantly clear that no external action on our part as human rights groups can result in anything the government of Uganda doesn’t already harbor in store for its own citizens. But speaking out may bring them relief – or at the very least hope.

It is hurtful, frustrating and bitterly disappointing that so far, there has been no news of any action being taken by the international community, this international family of nations called the UN.

In the meantime, as a member of SA GLAAD, I put out a press release on Saturday on the matter:

“Ugandan Proposed Anti Homosexuality Bill Paves Way to State-Sanctioned Genocide

SA GLAAD expresses its disgust and outrage at the news about the Ugandan proposed Anti Homosexuality Bill, which makes it not only illegal to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender - but which proposes the death penalty for gay people who are arrested for the "crime" of being in gay relationships - while also being HIV positive. The Bill has been tabled in Ugandan parliament and is currently under consideration. (To read the full text of the Bill, follow this link: http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2009/10/15/15609# )

For the past few years, religious intolerance fuelled by imported foreign fundamentalist influence, has swept the Ugandan nation into a paranoia-infused witch-hunt to purge indigenous gay people from Ugandan society altogether. Earlier this year US anti-gay group Exodus International incited mass-hatred for Ugandan gays by making false and extraordinary claims that gay people were even responsible for the genocide in Rwanda!

Propaganda infused with ignorant beliefs that homosexuality is "unnatural' and "un-African" add fuel to the fire.

For several years, people even suspected of homosexuality have been fired from their jobs, ostracized from their families, harassed by police, tortured and even killed for who they are. In the last year or so, Ugandan newspapers have taken to publishing pictures and names of people suspected of being gay, while also supplying details of their locations.

Gay and transgender people fearing violence and the passage of these draconian new laws have been fleeing to foreign nations for almost a decade. Late last year Uganda passed new laws to make homosexuality illegal - and the newly proposed legislation is intended to take this a step further, and indeed one has to wonder how far they are yet to take it in future.

Deliberately placing laws designed to make people into criminals, to "eradicate" homosexuality - which is not possible without also "eradicating" gay people - and then to institute the death penalty for such "crimes" - is at the very least tantamount to a "pogrom" or eugenics/political purge and at worst, setting the field in preparation to commit state-sanctioned genocide.

Despite all this, South Africa's government has remained silent on the human rights violations of Ugandan GLBTI people and continued to negotiate trade agreements with Uganda, even sending delegates to attend a conference in the Ugandan capital last year, shortly after the passage of strict "morality" laws which made homosexuality illegal in the country and which banned women from wearing short skirts.

We urge the Ugandan government to veto this obscene and immoral Bill and to overturn any and all laws already passed which violate the human rights of their citizens - who depend on them to safeguard their human and civil rights and dignity - and not to betray their trust any further.

We urge the South African government and the governments of foreign nations, where applicable, to own up to the fact that they have been blatantly ignoring human rights violations in Uganda and that they have in fact been doing business with human rights violators and abusers - and to cease doing so.

We would like to note that South Africa's government has made no official comment at all about these ongoing human rights violations in Uganda, nor publicized any attempts by it to address this issue, despite its involvement with Uganda and in the internal issues of other African states, such as Zimbabwe. We would also like to note that late last year, the government refused to sign the UN global declaration to decriminalize homosexuality - and that it cited having "principles" as an excuse.

The pink community in South Africa has been wondering what these "principles" are and whether we should be concerned about our future, considering the silence on human rights violations of gay people in many African countries, particularly while the ANC government seems set on placing this country under the authority of the Pan-African Parliament - coupled with the prevalent homophobia in most other African states - and what this will mean for human rights laws in this country's constitution should South Africa, as the only state on the continent where gay people have legal equality, want to be accepted into it.

Of great concern to us is government's recent and growing association with fundamentalist religious groupings who are not shy to boast of their sinister anti-human rights agenda and intentions to strip the pink community of their constitutional equality.

We urge the SA government to distance itself from anti-human rights elements, both domestically and internationally and to take diplomatic and, if necessary, economic action against Uganda to find a solution to this current and impending human tragedy, which will result in the grossly indecent treatment of human beings and the violation of their inalienable human rights."

What will they do? In Uganda? In South Africa? In the UN? What will the people at the front lines of this culture war do next?

People have been dying because of homophobia and transphobia for years now, and it is still happening. People have been campaigning to end it for years now, and still it continues. Leaders have been making promises for years now, and still for the most part, nothing has changed for the better.

Of course, Iran has been indulging in the state-sanctioned murder of gay people for over a decade already. Iraqi death squads have been murdering gay people for over a year. And Jamaica has done nothing to stem the rampant homophobia which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds in less than a decade. Has the UN done anything about it? Has any other body or institution? Has any country instituted trade bans or sanctions or other action against any country for human rights abuses for the sake of gay or trans people?

In most cases it doesn't even make the mainstream news. It seems our lives – our suffering, our deaths are just not important enough. Indeed, we are already in the beginning stages of a global genocide.  A pink genocide.

Without a voice to speak out against negative elements in society, we are doomed to follow countries like Uganda into the quagmire of inhumanity and spiritual violence and misery.

In South Africa we still see positive news, such as the appointment of pro-human rights advocates and personalities to positions of authority, which could stem the tide of this anti-diversity drive.  It is vital that the pink community in South Africa shows interest in affairs which affect us directly – and to shed the skin of apathy and to participate in them.

It's good to see some positive news here and there - and as long as we still see this sort of thing happen, even among the negative, then we still have hope.

We find ourselves in the middle of a culture war, with sinister forces vying for control of the minds and will of nations to believe as they do, that those who differ from them are not fit to live in peace and equality beside them. This is not a war for territory or riches or borders - but a war for our survival, and in this war hope is a weapon as well.

This is not Iran. Or Iraq. Or Indonesia. Or Burundi. Or Jamaica. Or Uganda. Or any other place where people are made criminals or lesser beings and persecuted and even murdered simply for who they are.

This is South Africa - where we have survived colonialism, overcome fascism, defeated racism, defused nationalism - and embraced equality and friendship in our diversity.

Nowhere else in the world today can any ideology, religion, government, or institution make this claim. And that makes us special.

Let that be our hope.

(Posted at Sour Grapes)

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