By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com July 07 2014 7:24 PM ET
Responding to increasingly deep cuts in international aid to Uganda after it enacted draconian legislation that prescribes lifelong jail sentences for many LGBT people, the east African nation's government says the intent of that law has been "misinterpreted."
The Anti-Homosexuality Act, which passed Uganda's parliament with broad support last December and was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni February 24, was implemented "with a view to curbing open promotion of homosexuality, especially among children and other vulnerable groups," reads a statement from Uganda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs published Monday.
The government contends that international partners that have cut or redirected aid formerly sent to to the Ugandan government — including the U.S., the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and more — in response to the so-called Jail the Gays law, have "misinterpreted [it] as a piece of legislation intended to punish and discriminate against people of a 'homosexual orientation.'"
According to the statement, the Ugandan government "remains committed to the rights of all individuals" and wants to "ensure that nobody takes the law into their own hands." Similarly, the government claims it "remains committed" to guaranteeing full, equal access to all social and health care services for all people in Uganda, "including health and HIV/AIDS services," and claims that it will "continue to enable civil society and [nongovernmental organizations] to operate freely."
Though that operation, the statement notes, must be "in accordance with the laws of Uganda" — presumably including the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which makes it a crime to provide financial, health, or emotional support to known LGBT people, imposing up to seven-year jail terms for landlords who house LGBT Ugandans and directors of nonprofits who engage with LGBT people.
Since the law formally came into effect in March, Ugandan police have raided and arrested workers at an HIV education clinic that was backed by the U.S. military and hosted at Kampala's Makere University, and suspended some actions of a refugee nonprofit pending an investigation, claiming both were recruiting programs that taught participants how to become gay.
In the eight months since Uganda's parliament ratified the Anti-Homosexuality Act, Sexual Minorities Uganda, an LGBT support and advocacy group on the ground, reports a 10-fold increase in violence and discrimination against LGBT people — including harrowing accounts of mob justice, police bribery, assault, kidnapping, eviction, arrest, and in some cases, murder.
"The passing of [Anti-Homosexuality Act] has given permission to a culture of extreme and violent homophobia whereby both state and non-state actors are free to persecute Uganda's LGBTI people with impunity," the May report from SMUG reads.
Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act, which criminalizes even the "intent to commit homosexuality" with lengthy jail sentences, also prescribes mandatory lifetime imprisonment for anyone convicted of "aggravated homosexuality," which includes any same-sex marriages, repeated instances of same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults, and any such contact where one party is a minor, HIV-positive, mentally disabled, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Nevertheless, Monday's statement from the Ugandan government claims that "no activities of individuals, groups companies, or organizations will be affected by the Act."