Advocacy of gay rights unwelcome in Uganda

Move to ban NGOs called a diversion

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KAMPALA, Uganda — The Ugandan government is seeking to ban 38 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that it accuses of promoting homosexuality — a move that critics say aims to divert attention from the administration’s political troubles.

“I have investigated and established beyond reasonable doubt that these NGOs have been involved in the promotion and recruitment in terms of the [gay] issues,” Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said.

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, and has been the focal point of violent attacks. In February, a lawmaker reintroduced legislation that would have imposed the death penalty for “serial” offenders.

Mr. Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, has submitted to the Internal Affairs Ministry a confidential list of local and international groups to be investigated and subsequently banned. He accuses some NGOs of conspiring with foreign backers to recruit children into homosexuality.

According to the Ugandan weekly newspaper the Observer, a leaked portion of the list includes the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the Refugee Law Project, the Rainbow and Diversity Organization, the Angel Support Group, Trans Equality Uganda and the Rainbow Foundation Mbarara.

People react during the funeral of Ugandan gay activist David Kato in Mukono, Uganda, in January 2011. His slaying followed the publication of his name and picture, and those of about 100 other suspected gays, in a tabloid under an inflammatory headline, "Hang them." (Associated Press)

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People react during the funeral of Ugandan gay activist David Kato in ... more >

The partial list could not be independently verified.

Anti-gay fervor

The move to ban the NGOs was made during sharply declining support for the government and power struggles within the administration.

An Afrobarometer poll in March found that Ugandans’ approval of President Yoweri Museveni's government had fallen to 26 percent, from 64 percent in January 2011.

Meanwhile, news outlets reported late last month that Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi are angling to unseat the 68-year-old president, who has been in power for 26 years.

“This campaign against sexual minorities is meant to shift attention from the challenges this country is facing and the issues affecting day-to-day lives,” said Hassan Shire, executive director of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project.

NGOs have become more vocal and critical amid the government’s increasing reliance on patronage to retain power, massive unemployment, crumbling infrastructure and violent crackdowns on journalists and activists.

Late last month, Internal Affairs Minister Hillary Onek accused NGOs of “stabbing the government in its back” for criticizing the government’s brand of politics and urged the groups to stick to humanitarian work.

The anti-gay fervor in Uganda peaked early last year, when the international community threatened to withdraw financial support if the legislature approved a bill that would have made it illegal to rent property to a homosexual and would have required citizens to report to police people they suspect of being gay or else risk a fine or prison sentence.

The bill was reintroduced in February, but it will not contain the death penalty clause when it is brought to parliament for a vote, likely later this year, according to its sponsor, lawmaker David Bahati.

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