On November 18, 2009, the Human Rights and Peace Center at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda hosted a public dialogue on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The blogger, GayUganda, has an extensive report here and I want to also call your attention to the remarks of Sylvia Tamale, law professor at Makerere University. Her paper presents a compelling case for the setting aside of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. From GayUganda, we also learn that the Exodus letter to President Museveni was a significant issue in the dialogue.
Dr. Tamale begins by discussing history of family in Africa. The she notes other issues which are more important to the family than homosexuality.
Thus, while I agree with you Hon. Bahati that we must seek ways of dealing with issues that threaten our families, I do not agree that homosexuality is one of those issues. Mr. Chairperson, Ladies and gentlemen, what issues currently threaten our families here in Uganda? I will name a few:
a) Blood thirsty Ugandans and traditional healers that believe that their good fortune will multiply through rituals of child sacrifice.
b) Rapists and child molesters who pounce on unsuspecting family members. Research undertaken by the NGO, Hope after Rape (HAR) shows that over 50% of child sexual abuse reports involve children below 10 years of age, and the perpetrators are heterosexual men who are known to the victims.
c) Sexual predators that breach the trust placed in them as fathers, teachers, religious leaders, doctors, uncles and sexually exploit young girls and boys. A 2005 report by Raising Voices and Save the Children revealed that 90% of
Ugandan children experienced domestic violence and defilement.
d) Abusive partners who engage in domestic violence whether physical, sexual or emotional. The 2006 national study on Domestic Violence by the Law Reform Commission confirmed the DV was pervasive in our communities. 66% of people in all regions of Uganda reported that DV occurred in their homes and the majority of the perpetrators were “male heads of households.” The Uganda Demographic Health Survey of 2006 put the figure slightly higher at 68%.
e) Parents who force their 14-year old daughters to get married in exchange for bride price and marriage gifts.
f) A whole generation of children who were either born and bred in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps or abducted by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in the northern sub-region of Kitgum, Gulu and Pader districts.
g) The millions of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The Uganda Aids Commission puts the cumulative number of orphans due to AIDS at 2 million.
h) The all powerful patriarchs that demand total submission and rule their households with an iron hand.
i) Rising poverty levels and growing food insecurity which lead to hunger, disease, suffering and undignified living. Figures from the latest report from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics show that over 60% of Ugandans living in rural areas live below the poverty line.
Professor Tamale makes a clear case that all Ugandans are at risk if this bill passes.
III. The Social Implications of the Bill to the Average Ugandan
You may think that this bill targets only homosexual individuals. However, homosexuality is defined in such a broad fashion as to include “touching another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.” This is a provision highly prone to abuse and puts all citizens (both hetero and homosexuals) at great risk. Such a provision would make it very easy for a person to witch-hunt or bring false accusations against their enemies simply to “destroy” their reputations and cause scandal. We all have not forgotten what happened to Pastor Kayanja and other men of God in the recent past.
Moreover, the bill imposes a stiff fine and term of imprisonment for up to three years for any person in authority over a homosexual who fails to report the offender within 24 hours of acquiring such knowledge. Hence the bill requires family members to “spy” on one another. This provision obviously does not strengthen the family unit in the manner that Hon. Bahati claims his bill wants to do, but rather promotes the breaking up of the family. This provision further threatens relationships beyond family members. What do I mean? If a gay person talks to his priest or his doctor in confidence, seeking advice, the bill requires that such person breaches their trust and confidentiality with the gay individual and immediately hands them over to the police within 24 hours. Failure to do so draws the risk of arrest to themselves.
Or a mother who is trying to come to terms with her child’s sexual orientation may be dragged to police cells for not turning in her child to the authorities. The same fate would befall teachers, priests, local councilors, counselors, doctors, landlords, elders, employers, MPs, lawyers, etc.
Furthermore, if your job is in any way related to human rights activism, advocacy, education and training, research, capacity building, and related issues this bill should be a cause for serious alarm. In a very undemocratic and unconstitutional fashion, the bill seeks to silence human rights activists, academics, students, donors and non-governmental organizations. If passed into law it will stifle the space of civil society. The bill also undermines the pivotal role of the media to report freely on any issue. The point I am trying to make is that we are all potential victims of this draconian bill.
Tamale then provides a legal analysis of the bill which finds much of it unconstitutional and confusing. She concludes by saying
Mr. Chairperson, distinguished participants, I wish to end by appealing to members of parliament and all Ugandans that believe in human rights and the dignity of all human beings to reject the Anti-homosexuality bill. I am imploring Hon. Bahati to withdraw his private members bill. Do we really in our hearts of hearts want our country to be the first on the continent to demand that mothers spy on their children, that teachers refuse to talk about what is, after all, “out there” and that our gay and lesbian citizens are systematically and legally terrorized into suicide? Ladies and gentlemen, you may strongly disagree with the phenomenon of same-sex erotics; you may be repulsed by what you imagine homosexuals do behind their bedroom doors; you may think that all homosexuals deserve to burn in hell. However, it is quite clear that this Bill will cause more problems around the issue of homosexuality than it will solve. I suggest that Hon. Bahati’s bill be quietly forgotten. It is no more or less than an embarrassment to our intelligence, our sense of justice and our hearts.
The remarks are amended to include some thoughts on the question and answer period. To get a more complete sense of this meeting, you should also consult GayUganda’s eyewitness description. There he describes talks by David Bahati and Stephen Langa. Langa in particular was described as referring to the Pink Swastika by Scott Lively and materials from Exodus International.
However, according to GayUganda, during the question and answer session, a questioner asked Stephen Langa why he referred to Exodus International material in his defense of the bill when Exodus had recently denounced the bill. I’ll let Gug describe it:
The Exodus letter is a particular foil. Why, even Exodus does not support the Bill! That is a shock, to Steven Langa. An unpleasant one. Because he is using information published by some of the signatories of this letter. He quotes them. And, very embarassing that they don’t support his bill! Even his allies see that his action is un-Christian. He also quotes Lively, extensively. Yes, he does. This Lively. To Langa, the true intellectual mind behind the Bahati Bill, Lively is THE prophet of his crusade. And he promotes his books. Repeateldy. Even yesterday. (It was the Pink Swastika)
I will always remember Langa’s face when he was challenged that Exodus was not supporting the bill. That they were not supporting him, though he was quoting them. And, it was a fellow pastor, I believe, who challenged him. Could he answer? Ha!
Americans with a connection to Ugandans who support or promote the bill have a special responsibility to come along side their Ugandan brothers and ask them to put down their stones.