Uganda’s LGBT need our support – we must do all we can to assist them

Pamela Nash MP, PPS to Shadow Secretary of State for International Development and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS

In recent weeks I have been watching the calendar, noting that President Museveni had until the 24th February to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill; hoping that sense would prevail and he would not accept this discriminatory legislation. Sadly he did, and invited the world’s media to witness it.

Uganda is a place close to my heart; it is home to family and friends of mine, I have been lucky enough to work there briefly as a student and visit several times since. I am deeply upset about this legislation being passed.

The Bill threatens life-sentences in jail to those who are found to have had homosexual sex (or “aggravated homosexuality”) and imprisoning those who are seen to “aid and abet” homosexuality in any way. This means it is now a criminal offence for a person not to report a family member, friend or neighbour for “homosexual behavior and related practices” and the law also appears to apply to those in authority.

Uganda’s Health Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, has now claimed that this Bill will not affect the fight against HIV, and will not prevent MSM seeking testing and treatment for HIV; however I just cannot see how this can be the case. This Bill criminalises just KNOWING that someone is partaking in”homosexual behaviour and related practices” which threatens to divide or imprison families; and will leave MSM fearing to visit health professionals in case they are turned over to the authorities. They will not accept this reassurance from a Government that has just passed such a draconian law against them.

This is happening in the only African country with rising rates of new HIV infections, in marked contrast to rest of the continent.

Men who have sex with men are 13 times more likely to contract HIV than the general population. By criminalising homosexuality the Ugandan Government is putting the AIDS response in real danger.

For me, this Bill is simply a violation of the human rights of the Ugandan people. It contradicts Uganda’s Constitution, which states
” All persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life and in every other respect and shall enjoy equal protection of the law.”

Unfortunately, the LGBT community no longer has equal protection of the law, in fact they themselves are criminalised. The message being sent out is that they are worth less than the rest of the population, and this gives license for all sorts of further discrimination.

I am hugely concerned about the safety of gay people in Uganda now. There has already been a marked increase in violent attacks in the lead up to the signing of the Bill on Monday and this does not look likely to subside. Sadly there have been unconfirmed reports of someone being murdered already this week, and people are frightened for their lives.

My blood ran cold when I saw that Red Pepper, a Ugandan tabloid, has published the names of 200 people who they say are homosexual, some with photographs. Three years ago, another paper, Rolling Stone, was set up for the purpose of “outing” gay Ugandans. This inflamed violence and has been linked to the murder of David Kato, who led Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the campaign to stop this Bill.

The UK Government has been consistently vocal in its opposition to the Bill , and must continue to voice our outrage that such a violation of human rights has been passed in 2014. The Government must also ensure that we do all we can to help the LGBT community on the ground in Uganda. They need our support more than ever before to remain safe, healthy and able to campaign against the discrimination they are facing.

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