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Uganda’s anti-gay bill rises from dead

Activist from African country focused on bringing attention to human rights violations
|Written By Gail J. Cohen

Just weeks ago, Ugandan MP David Bahati reintroduced anti-homosexuality legislation that can mean the death penalty for a “serial offender” of the “offence of homosexuality.”

Ugandan lawyer Adrian Jjuuko was in Toronto last week to promote awareness of the attacks on human rights in his country. (Photo: Gail J. Cohen)

The infamous anti-gay bill, originally introduced in 2009, died when the parliamentary session expired before it was debated. The bill was widely condemned by national and international human rights groups as well as the government’s of many Western nations. Many see its re-introduction as a sign of contempt for Western governments’ meddling in the internal politics of African nations, including threats holding back of aid money.

“If there was any condition to force the Western world to stop giving us money, I would like that,” Bahati is quoted as saying in The New York Times.

And it is the issue of flagrant human rights violations, including the violence and potential severe punishments that accompany them, that brought Ugandan lawyer and human rights activist Adrian Jjuuko to Toronto last week.

He was in town to present a paper on Ugandan lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender asylum seekers and how if the anti-homosexuality bill passed it would mean Canada would likely face many more refugees from his country.

Jjuuko for the last two years has been co-ordinator of the Civil Society Coalition opposing the anti-homsexuality bill. He currently chairs the legal team of the coalition.He is also part of Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights, a Canadian-led international project on the impact of criminalizing sexual orientation and gender identity.

But while his trip to Canada focused extensively on the anti-homosexuality bill — “A draconian law. It violates the rights of the person.” — Jjuuko told Legal Feeds human rights violations of all kinds are rampant in his home country.

“Human rights for all people are under attack in Uganda today and the anti- homsexuality bill is just one of those direct attacks,” he says.

He urges Canadians, particularly lawyers through their bar organizations and law societies, to voice their support for all human rights by writing to the speaker of parliament in Uganda about the bill, talking to the Canadian government about supporting human rights, engaging with the law society in Uganda, and writing opinion pieces in the media.

“This should concern everyone,” he says. “There are lots of human rights violations in Uganda beyond [the anti-gay bill]. Only mentioning LGBT rights can makeit easy for legislators to duck behind the excuse of gay rights being a “western” issue being foisted upon them by neo-colonials.

When Bahati reintroduced the anti-homosexuality bill, he got a standing ovation with parliamentarians clapping and chanting “our bill,” says Jjuuko. “If left to Parliament, it will pass. It has overwhelming support from both sides of the house.”

The bill includes offences such as the “promotion” of homosexuality and “aggravated homosexuality,” which can include same-sex relations with a disabled person, even if it is consensual, and sex with a minor, which Jjuuko notes is already covered by other criminal laws.” Some small changes from the original 2009 bill have been suggested by the parliamentary committee but “the worst parts of it are still there including the death penalty which is now proposed by reference,” he says.

He points out that the work activists like himself do, promoting human rights for all, is regarded as the promotion of homosexuality and could net him seven years in prison under the proposed law.

The affable young lawyer is very passionate about what he does despite the danger he faces. For instance, he has had to move his home a number of times in the last few years, he receives lots of hate mail from people “threatening abusing and threatening,” he says. It’s all forced to him to have to get security training to protect himself.

“Most of the time, you have to check behind your back.”


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