By Thom Senzee
Originally published on Advocate.com June 05 2014 8:22 PM ET
A Uganda-based nongovernmental organization housed at Kampala's Makere University is countering media reports claiming the NGO had been shuttered as a result of an investigation into government allegations that it was "promoting homosexuality and lesbianism."
Despite widespread media reports — and an ongoing government investigation about whether the NGO violated Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act — the Refugee Law Project confirmed that it is continuing its operations in a statement published on the group's website and Facebook page.
That statement did confirm, however, that the Ugandan Office of the Ministry of Relief, Disaster Preparedness, and Refugees has ordered the Refugee Law Project to suspend its one-on-one work with refugees in Uganda, while the group is under investigation for allegedly violating the Anti-Homosexuality Act's prohibition on promoting or conspiring to engage in homosexuality.
Nevertheless, the NGO insists it continues to operate in multiple offices throughout Uganda.
"We would like to clarify to the general public and all other stakeholders that we are in operation and all our offices in Kampala, Gulu, Hoima, Mbarara and Kitgum are open and operational," said the statement, signed by Refugee Law Project director Walter Richard Aliker.
Although critics might argue that the Refugee Law Project's main mission has been fundamentally changed by the suspension of all one-on-one activity with refugees, making the NGO functionally defunct, its recent public statement denied this emphatically.
"We would also like to inform all stakeholders that the suspension only relates to work involving direct interface with refugees," said Aliker in the statement. "All the other activities, such as research, capacity building for key stakeholders, community outreaches, legal advocacy as well as actual court representation for our clients, continue."
According to a report today by BuzzFeed's J. Lester Feder, activists in Uganda see the investigation as a harbinger of that one of their long-held fears would be realized – that the government of President Yoweri Museveni would use the Anti-Homosexuality Act to suppress and intimidate groups and individuals who are critical of his regime, which has ruled the country since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1988.
BuzzFeed further notes that a coalition of Ugandan NGOs that have stood up against the onerous and brutal impact of the nation's antigay law is housed at the Refugee Law Project's Kampala office.
As the Washington Blade reported Wednesday, a distinct lack of U.S. action in response to the draconian law's February passage and the well-documented increase in harassment, arrest, and attacks on LGBT Ugandans prompted the Human Rights Campaign to pen an open letter to the Obama administration, urging immediate action with tough words and sanctions against Uganda's increasingly homophobic government.