Anti-gay laws, rhetoric, impact, response: Good news, bad news and no news

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Semugoma and Kanyemba

Dr. Paul Semugoma, right, with his partner Brian Kanyemba

Physician activist released, Ugandan, Nigerian groups call  for action, Uganda government responds, and homophobic rhetoric escalates

First the good news: after urging by civil society leaders in South Africa and around the world, Ugandan-born physician and gay rights advocate Paul Semugoma has been ordered released from immigration officials’ custody, and will receive the work permit that will allow him to remain in South Africa. As reported Wednesday,  Semugoma, who was slated for deportation to Uganda, has spoken out against the country’s anti-homosexuality legislation that President Yoweri Museveni recently decided to sign, has worked to draw attention to the detrimental impact of homophobic discriminatory practices and neglect on the country’s response to its HIV epidemic, and in a plenary address at the 2012 International AIDS Conference announced that he is gay. Activists concerned about his safety mounted an international effort, including a petition to South Africa’s Office of Home Affairs, before receiving word today that he will remain in South Africa.

UgandaMediaCentreStatementIn addition to grave concerns over Semugoma’s safety expressed this week, reactions to Museveni’s announcement that he would sign legislation that would penalize “aggravated homosexuality” with life in prison, and threaten those offering support or services to gay people with prison as well, have included this White House Statement, and this statement from the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs. Ugandan human rights advocates In turn, are asking for more, in this statement, which concludes with a call for “the U.S., UK, EU and other countries to recall their Ambassadors for urgent consultations on the way forward.” Health GAP is supporting the Uganda coalition, and their request to recall the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria as well, at this link.

In turn, the Uganda Media Centre released a  Government statement on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that essentially confirms through omission the devastating effects the legislation is intended to have on human rights. Quoting the country’s 1995 Constitution’s assurance that “a person shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, social or economic standing, political opinion or disability,” it goes on to say the “Government of Uganda reiterates its commitment to uphold and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons in Uganda as guaranteed by the Constitution.” The Uganda Media Centre also has posted this statement from the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, praising the anti-homosexuality law, and adding: “This however does not mean that homosexuality is now finished. The anti-gay law will only strengthen the fight against this foreign and inhuman act. The struggle continues because with this development, the so called gay activists are going to descend on Uganda with all their resources and try to turn our country into a homosexuality hub in Africa. We should therefore be on the alert and ready to fight and defeat these perpetrators of homosexuality.”

In the meantime, Gambia’s President Yahya Jemmeh voiced similar sentiments this week, by vowing to fight gay people “same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively,” to a rebuke from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who added: “we encourage the international community to send a clear signal that statements of this nature have no place in the public dialogue and are unacceptable.” Jammeh’s previous claim to notoriety was his announcement that he had invented a cure for AIDS that necessitated discontinuing antiretroviral treatment.

Finally, Nigeria’s Solidarity Alliance is calling on the rest of the world to join them in a Global Day of Action against homophobic laws, violence and injustice, on March 7, and to add support to this petition calling on Nigerian officials to end arrests based on sexual orientation, prosecute homophobic assaults, and restore justice to those victimized by Nigeria’s anti-gay law and the mob violence that has followed.

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