Posted by Lucile Scott February 24, 2014
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality bill into law on February 24. (Photo: U.S. Army Africa)
As protests surrounding the Sochi Olympics focused the world’s attention on Russia’s homophobic law against “gay propaganda”, draconian anti-gay legislation was passed in Nigeria and Uganda. Previously, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had stated that, while he believed homosexuals were “sick,” he did not think they should be imprisoned for life and would therefore not sign a bill, passed by Parliament in December, that punishes homosexuality with life in prison and outlaws “promotion of homosexuality”—including HIV outreach targeting GMT. The president changed his position last week, saying that “scientists” had presented him with research findings showing that homosexuality is not genetic, but a learned behavior. "It was learned and could be unlearned," he said.
In Nigeria, the Solidarity Alliance, a coalition of Nigerian human rights organizations, announced a March 7 Global Day of Action to condemn the “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act” that was signed by President Goodluck Jonathan in January. Like the Ugandan law, it puts both LGBT and the health providers and educators working with them at risk of criminal prosecution and guts the response to HIV. “Right now, HIV work with MSM is largely stalled as those of us working in the field are concerned for the safety of the community,” says Morenike Ukpong, coordinator at Nigeria’s New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society, a GMT Initiative grantee partner. “Those still working in the field have had to shift their focus from HIV programming to protecting people’s lives and property.”
Dr. Paul Semugoma (right) with his partner Brian Kanyemba (left)
As part of the campaign surrounding the Global Day of Action, the Solidarity Alliance is asking supporters worldwide to sign a petition calling for Nigerian officials to stop arresting people for their sexual orientation and to start prosecuting individuals who assault members of the LGBT community. Stay tuned for more updates on what you can do in March.
The week also brought more instances of the homophobic violence and arrests that have been on the rise in both countries since the bills’ passage. In Nigeria, a pastor in the small village of Gishiri organized a mob that broke into the homes of approximately 15 people suspected of being gay in the middle of the night, looted their belongings, and dragged them to a police station. None of the attackers were prosecuted.
Prominent Ugandan-born LGBT advocate Dr. Paul Semugoma was arrested in South Africa and nearly deported to Uganda, where he is “wanted” for his advocacy against the bill. His nearly week-long detention by immigration officials continued even after a South African court ordered his release. He was finally released on February 20.
On February 16, after Museveni announced that he planned to sign the bill, President Obama issued a statement that enacting the legislation would “complicate our valued relationship with Uganda,” a recipient of U.S. developmental aid. In a statement, Museveni responded: “Africans do not seek to impose their views on anybody. We do not want anybody to impose their views on us.”
A coalition of Ugandan human rights advocates released a plan for how the international community could most effectively support their efforts against the legislation without sparking an anti-Western backlash that could exacerbate the violence. The plan asks the U.S., the U.K., E.U. member states, and other countries to recall their ambassadors from Nigeria and Uganda and to urge the Presidents of both countries to ensure that the law does not affect national health policies pertaining to LGBT, does not give rise to increased police brutality towards the community, and does not interrupt the work of NGOs. The advocates also requested assistance engaging the African Union and the leadership of other African nations, including Rwanda, South Africa, and Mozambique, to speak out against the bill.