Africa

Uganda cracks down on 'homosexual' NGOs

David Smith

Uganda has announced a ban on 38 non-governmental organisations it accuses of undermining the national culture by promoting homosexuality.

Ugandan police officers stay at the entrance of the Esella Country Hotel after police raided a gay rights workshop which was taking place in the hotel, in Kampala. (AFP)

Simon Lokodo, the country’s ethics and integrity minister, claimed the organisations were receiving support from abroad for Uganda’s homosexuals and “recruiting” young children into homosexuality.

“I have established that 38 NGOs, if not more, exist not for humanitarian reasons but to destroy the traditions and culture of this country by promoting homosexuality,” he said on Wednesday. “We found that, on the pretext of humanitarian concerns, these organisations are being used to promote negative cultures. They are encouraging homosexuality as if it is the best form of ­sexual behaviour.”

The former Roman Catholic priest said he believed the ban would come into a force next week. “If the NGOs continue to operate, they will be doing so illegally [and] they will have to face a court of law.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. A Bill calling for harsher penalties and outlawing the “promotion” of homosexuality, including providing financial support to gays and lesbians, is pending in Parliament. A previous Bill called for the death penalty for repeat offenders, although the new version is expected to drop this clause after international condemnation.

Ludicrous and senseless
On Monday, Lokodo ordered the break-up of a gay rights workshop organised by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project at a hotel just outside the capital, Kampala. Police wearing riot gear sealed off the venue for several hours. About 15 activists from Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania were questioned and later released without charge.

Amnesty International condemned the raid. “This ludicrous and senseless harassment of human rights activists has no basis in law whatsoever and has to stop,” said Michelle Kagari, its deputy director for Africa. “The continued persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists by the Ugandan authorities is beginning to take on the sinister characteristics of a witch-hunt.”

Lokodo made a similar intervention in February when he stormed into a gay rights conference and tried to have one of the organisers arrested for insulting him.
Frank Mugisha, head of the NGO Sexual Minorities Uganda, said the minister’s ban was part of a wider general assault on civil society in Uganda.

“The government is trying to use homosexuality to crack down on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. If NGOs are closed down, they will not be able to support human rights.”

In May, Uganda threatened to deregister British charity Oxfam over accusations it made of government involvement in violent land grabs in the country. – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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