Lesbians want protection

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By Katherine Roubos & Val Kalende

Posted  Tuesday, September 25  2007 at  00:00

Two years ago, a government official broke into a home, seized property and detained one of the occupants without a warrant. The case seems clear, but will the plaintiff's homosexuality affect the verdict? The ruling, due next month in Uganda's Constitutional court, could set a precedent for sub-Saharan Africa's reportedly conservative masses.

Two Ugandan lesbians are suing the government for trespassing, theft of property, illegal arrest, and inhuman and degrading treatment. The case has been in court since December 2006 and a verdict is expected when the court session resumes in August.

Victor Mukasa, a 31-year-old gay rights activist and Yvonne Ooyo, a 24-year-old Kenyan, claim that on July 20, 2005, LC1 Chairman John Lubega from Kireka Kamuli zone illegally raided and searched and their home without a warrant and proceeded to arbitrarily arrest Ms Ooyo who was alone in the house at the time.

The case is highly contentious, if only because of the complainant's sexuality. Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. Some religious leaders like born-again Pastor Martin Sempa of the Makerere Community Church, advocate a path of 'redemption' rather than court trials.

"I know many people in my congregation who were lesbian but have turned around and are living a straight life now," he says. "Victor will experience redemption if she is given the right treatment and information," he adds.

This is the first case on legal rights of homosexual citizens in a Ugandan court to receive a public hearing. In fact, aside from South Africa where homosexuality is legal, it is the first case in Africa of a gay person seeking affirmation of their constitutional rights.

Dr Nsaba Buturo, the minister of Ethics and Integrity, suggested that the plaintiffs "suffered under the false notion that homosexuality can be a human rights issue" and cautioned that "next time, they will say bestiality should be a human right."

On her part, Dr Sylvia Tamale, dean of the Makerere Law School, disagrees.
"This is not really a case challenging the legality of homosexuality. It is actually about rights to privacy and property," she says.

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