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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Did the UN just get a LGBT rights concession from Uganda?

Photo by riekhavoc
By Paul Canning

Since the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process began in 2007 at the Human Rights Council at the United Nations it has both forced governments to defend their polices as well as actually causing them to change them.

The current UPR session has already seen two countries agree to decriminalize homosexuality.

Uganda went into their session last week claiming that [PDF]:

"There is information of covert recruitment, of especially our children and youth, into such practices which we consider to be detrimental to the moral fabric of our society."
No evidence provided of this of course - because none exists.

The 'recruitment' line is one used widely by the proponents of the 'Kill gays' Anti-Homosexuality bill. Chief frontman for the bill, David Bahati MP, was challenged by US MSM news host Rachel Maddow on this last year when he appeared on her show. Specifically, she asked, where is the evidence? Challenged to produce it, he never has. Nor has anyone else.

The Ugandan activist Frank Mugisha was in Geneva for the session and, writing in Huffington Post, declares himself "disheartened and disappointed that my country of Uganda failed once again to take the rights of its LGBTI citizens seriously."

He cites: denial of basic health services; laws criminalizing homosexuality, and; civil society organizations denied the ability to register as official nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The latter was flat out denied by the Ugandan government representatives present in Geneva. Writes Mugisha:

"For me, this is a laughing matter," writes Mugisha. "LGBTI groups, like the one I lead, will never meet Uganda's NGO criteria, as long as my government regards our work as criminal."

However he notes that a long list of countries from throughout the world "put my government on the spot", including telling Uganda to "stop the false allegations that LGBTI groups solicit young people into homosexuality."

The UPR may have had some effect on Uganda as it did agree to [PDF]:
  • Investigate and prosecute intimidation and attacks on LGBT-community members and activists;
  • Investigate thoroughly and sanction accordingly violence against LGBTs, including gay rights activists;
  • Take immediate concrete steps to stop discrimination and assaults against LGBT persons.
It also agreed to a proposal put forward by Poland to "engage civil society in the process of implementation of UPR recommendations" - to work with NGOs to develop measures which combat violence
Activists within the country meanwhile continue to score small victories. Last week came the agreement of HIV/Aids activists to promote access for gays to HIV prevention and treatment in public health centres in Uganda, reports Behind The Mask.

Uganda's success in reducing national HIV/Aids prevalence from 30 per cent in the 1980s to about 6.4 per cent in 2010, according to Uganda Aids Commission figures, has been at threat because of a funding devotion to abstinence education programs. These have been massively funded by the United States PEPFAR program (which totals around US$280m PA). These near useless HIV/Aids prevention programs are backed by the fiercely Christian Ugandan President's wife, Janet Museveni, and often mean funds going to churches.

Programs for the MSM (men who have sex with men) minority as well as others such as sex workers and prisoners have almost entirely gone unfunded. Those working to combat HIV/Aids have also been reluctant to argue for them. However this is now changing because of grassroots work.

In July LGBT lobby group, Uhspa Uganda, was appointed to a committee to mainstream homosexual’s rights in Uganda’s Public Health Policies.

HIV/AIDS positive men’s leader, Richard Serunkuuma tells Behind The Mask that for more than 20 years he had lived with HIV/Aids and he wants gay people to have the same level of access to care, treatment and support. He decried the proposed Anti Homosexuality Bill that would make medical workers report their gay clients to police by virtue of information obtained when gay people visit health centres in Uganda.

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