Uganda's Confusing Message to the UN on Protection of Gays

Published: October 18, 2011

The Ugandan government has told a UN human rights forum that it would take legal measures to protect the LGBTI community but that the state would not decriminalise homosexuality.

In a confusing statement, Uganda’s delegation to the 12th UN Universal Period Review Mission in Geneva led by Foreign Affairs Minister, Okello Oryem said the country would “take immediate concrete steps to stop discrimination and assaults against LGBTI persons” and gay rights activists.

In the same breath however, Uganda rejected all recommendations relating to decriminalization of homosexuality.

Oryem meanwhile promised to investigate and prosecute intimidation of LGBTI and attacks on the community and activists and would also take legal action on violence against the LGBTI community.

However, the delegation insisted that as far as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was concerned, “Uganda upholds the principle of separation of powers and therefore the Executive has no control over Parliament. Furthermore, this is a Private Member’s Bill and the Executive has no powers to stop it.”

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a new and unique mechanism of the United Nations which started in April 2008. It consists of the review of the human rights practices of all states in the world, once every four years. This year’s session ran from October 3 to 14 in Geneva.

On the one hand, Uganda’s commitments are being seen by local activists that the government is acknowledging that it has a responsibility to end violence against LGBT persons.

But on the other hand, the delegations utterances on the separation of powers appear to be sending signals that the bill is likely to return.

In September Behind the Mask reported that the Ugandan parliament’s debate on the issue of whether or not to re-introduce the internationally condemned Anti-Homosexuality Bill had been postponed indefinitely.

While the Ugandan cabinet dropped the private member’s bill tabled by David Bahati, Bahati said the cabinet had no powers to interfere with the bill, because it was now a property of parliament.

Meanwhile, in a case brought by LGBTI activists against the defunct Rolling Stone Newspaper earlier this year, a high court judge ruled that all Ugandans, irrespective of sexual orientation had a right to privacy, life and protection.

During the Geneva review Uganda also accepted recommendation 111.13 by Poland to “engage civil society in the process of implementation of UPR recommendations”.

Currently, NGOs registration in Uganda is under the Ministry of Internal Affairs and some observers have suggested that the registration of human rights groups is controlled by security agents. The United States asked Uganda during the review to remove security agents from registering NGOs.

Uganda made pronouncements in Geneva that LGBTI groups would not be discriminated against in registration as long as they meet the requirements.

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