BY Kerry Eleveld

January 21 2010 5:50 PM ET

Madame
Chairperson, distinguished members of the commission, I thank you for
this invitation to speak with you today about a grave human rights
crisis in my country of Uganda.

I speak here this afternoon as
a member of Uganda’s sexual minorities, as a Ugandan human rights
activist, and as a Christian who believes in the foundational faith
principles of love, tolerance, compassion, and mercy.

On a
daily basis, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex
individuals in Uganda face gross hostility and abuse. This abuse
includes verbal insults, physical and sexual harassment, humiliating
publicity, arbitrary arrests and torture, denial of access to health
care, housing, education, and other social services. These acts and
deprivations are inflicted on us solely on grounds of what is
considered to be traditionally nonconforming sexual identities or
orientation.

I have personally been a victim of this
hostility on several occasions. In one case I was forced to resign
from a job for the simple reason that controversy around my identity
had placed the reputation of the organization I worked for in question.
They felt that having me on their staff drew “unwanted” attention to
their organization.

In another case a house I rented was set
on fire by unidentified people. In yet another case a company I worked
for sent me on a journey with the wrong contact information in order to
get me stranded — a situation which set off a series of humiliating
media reports. The reports resurrected and made a mockery of my
identity crisis experience rather than the matter at hand at the time.
The same company then used the media reports as grounds to terminate me
from work. On still another occasion a dentist I visited openly asked
me if there were witches in my family and if that could be the reason
for my gender variance. From 1995, when my gender variance was publicly
known, I had several demands for invasive and humiliating body checks
as a precondition for job appointments or acceptance into church
membership.

I personally know lesbians who have been raped by
male relatives in order to so-called “cure them” of their lesbianism.
Sadly, although they were thus infected with HIV, they cannot access
justice. I know gay men who have been habitually blackmailed to avoid
arrest. I have further seen firsthand the trauma of transgender
Ugandans who have been sexually abused, including by the police, and
arrested purely for their gender expression. One transgender woman had
a gang of men violently insert rough pieces of wood in her anus to
remind her that she was a biological man and not a woman. These and
similar abuses are what LGBT Ugandans live with on a daily basis. In
most cases the government has not held the perpetrators accountable.

The
Ugandan penal code already criminalizes same-sex relations in ways that
the United States and many other countries have come to reject. Those
who are convicted are punished with life imprisonment. Legal recourse
is not an option for most LGBT Ugandans, the majority of whom are not
economically able to afford legal services.

The
anti-homosexuality bill, which was introduced into Uganda’s parliament
on October 14, 2009, by Hon. Bahati, has aggravated this situation. If
enacted, I have no doubt that it will heighten legislative and social
harassment and persecution of sexual minorities in Uganda. Indeed, it
already has. It will — among other things — nullify all constitutional
protections of homosexual Ugandans as minorities within Uganda. The
constitution of Uganda provides for the right to privacy, freedom of
expression, and for the protection of all its citizens, including
minorities.

It also upholds respect for diversity as well as
all other universal human rights enshrined in the United Nations
declaration on human rights. Unfortunately, some laws have been passed
that undercut these rights for sexual minorities. If this bill is
passed, it will undermine the most basic human rights and protections
of the Ugandan LGBTI community. By undermining these protections, it
also will have a chilling effect on broader human rights respect in my
country and the rest of Africa. The bill gives Uganda extraterritorial
jurisdiction, which means that as sexual minorities, we cannot be safe
at home and abroad.
The bill will increase hate crimes against
members of our community, and consequent risk of torture, blackmail,
and murder of homosexuals by both state and nonstate actors. It
proposes to criminalize not only homosexual acts but also even the
“intent” to commit a homosexual act as well as withholding of
information about a “suspected” homosexual by anyone in “a position of
authority.” The bill further proposes to criminalize everyone and every
organization with an operating base in Uganda that advocates for the
rights of sexual minorities. This would include individuals and
organizations from the United States, Madame Chairperson.

Since
the bill’s first reading in the Ugandan parliament, the Civil Society
Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law has been approached
for help by homosexual people who have received death threats. We have
also been approached by human rights activists whose offices have been
raided by police and where police surveillance continues daily.
Religious leaders have threatened to hunt homosexuals if the government
does not pass the bill quickly. The bill has increased fear among
sexual minorities and among everyone who believes in respect for
diversity in Uganda.




















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