Uganda Bans 38 Organisations Accused Of 'promoting Homosexuality'
Country's ethics and integrity minister claims banned NGOs exist to 'destroy the traditions and culture of this country'
Uganda has announced a ban on 38 non-governmental organisations it accuses of undermining the national culture by promoting homosexuality.
Simon Lokodo, the country's ethics and integrity minister, claimed the NGOs were receiving support from abroad for Uganda's homosexuals and "recruiting" young children into homosexuality.
"I have established beyond reasonable doubt that the 38 NGOs, if not even more, exist not for humanitarian reasons but to destroy the traditions and culture of this country by promoting homosexuality," he said on Wednesday.
"We found that, on the pretext of humanitarian concerns, these organisations are being used to promote negative cultures. They are encouraging homosexuality as if it is the best form of sexual behaviour."
The former Catholic priest said he believes the ban will come into a force next week. "If the NGOs continue to operate, they will be doing so illegally, they will be apprehended and will have to face a court of law."
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. A bill calling for harsher penalties and outlawing the "promotion" of homosexuality, including providing financial support to gays and lesbians, is pending in the east African country's parliament.
A previous bill called for the death penalty for repeat offenders, although the new version is expected to drop this clause after international condemnation of the proposal and threats to cut off aid.
Lokodo said: "Homosexuality is illegal, unacceptable and strange to our culture. It doesn't have any positive aspects at all. If homosexuality is promulgated and legitimised, that will be like having no future of society. There is no procreation between man and man or woman and woman. We condemn it very strongly."
On Monday he ordered the break-up of a gay rights workshop organised by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project at a hotel just outside the capital, Kampala. Police wearing riot gear sealed off the venue for several hours. About 15 activists from Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania were questioned and later released without charge.
Police spokesman Idi Senkumbi told Reuters: "They were questioned on what exactly they were up to and the assembly they were involved in."
Amnesty International condemned the raid. "This ludicrous and senseless harassment of human rights activists has no basis in law whatsoever and has to stop," said Michelle Kagari, its deputy director for Africa. "The continued persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists by the Ugandan authorities is beginning to take on the sinister characteristics of a witch hunt."
Lokodo made a similar intervention in February when he stormed into a gay rights conference and tried to have one of the organisers arrested for insulting him.
Frank Mugisha, head of the NGO Sexual Minorities Uganda, said the minister's ban was part of a wider assault on civil society in Uganda. "The government is trying to use homosexuality to crack down on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly," he said. "If NGOs are closed down, they will not be able to support human rights.
"Simon Lokodo is very homophobic but it's coupled with politics. He's trying to gain popularity and make his name. The president should come out and distance himself from Lokodo."
Sexual Minorities Uganda would defy any ban, insisted Mugisha, winner of the Robert F Kennedy human rights award last year. "We are definitely continuing our operations and we will still hold conferences. We will continue to ask for the oppressive laws that are being used to intimidate us to be abolished.
"They have said they are going to pass the bill before October. That won't stop us. We shall continue to fight until all the legislation is cleared and we are free. Things are changing. It cannot be oppression forever."
Mohammad Ndifuna, the director of Human Rights Network Uganda, another of the organisations to be banned, told Reuters: "We know that they have been all kinds of threats coming towards the [NGO] sector for different reasons."
In May, Uganda threatened to de-register the British charity Oxfam over accusations it made of government involvement in violent land grabs in the country.
By David Smith
June 20, 2012