Leaked report shows intent to criminalise gay activities

A security guard points at posters warning against drug abuse and homosexuality at Kibuli SS, Kampala, on February 5, 2023.  PHOTOS/ STEPHEN OTAGE

What you need to know:

  • The NGO Bureau is currently investigating operations of 22 NGOs suspected to be involved in promotion of LGBTIQ activities.

The government should “comprehensively criminalise” activities that promote homosexuality in the country and lay down stringent requirements for registration of civil society organisations, a leaked report reveals.

The report by the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organisations or NGO Bureau shows the government’s intention to clamp stronger shackles on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTiQ) activities in the country.

“Individuals linked to organisations involved in promoting LGBTiQ activities should be profiled and mechanisms put in place to prevent them from forming other organisations for a similar purpose,” the January 2023 report says.

Mr Stephen Okello, the executive director of the NGO Bureau, confirmed the authenticity of the unsigned report but was quick to add that the “document was not officially released by the Bureau.”
“It was still being worked on and being subjected to internal processes,” he told Monitor.

The NGO Bureau is currently investigating operations of 22 NGOs across the country suspected to be involved in promotion of LGBTIQ activities.

The investigations also centre on the legality of the NGOs, profile of key personnel, and source of funding, among others. Donor agencies cited as financiers include Germany development partners GIZ, American Jewish Service, USAID, Open Society Initiative for East Africa, American Embassy, Tides Foundation, and Oxfam.

It said the investigations followed concerns by various stakeholders. Parliament recently heard that some NGOs were actively recruiting schoolchildren into same-sex relations. 

Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa last month told the House that he had heard “painful stories” and that many citizens, including parents, were “suffering in silence” from the psychological damage of forced recruitment to homosexuality.

NGOs in the spotlight
The Bureau says it has completed investigations into activities of four other organisations—Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), Tranz Network, The Robust Initiative for Promoting Human Rights (Triumph), and Ubuntu Law and Justice Centre—and found they were operating illegally.

In a terse response, Triumph told Sunday Monitor that they never received any communication in regard to their application for registration from the NGO Bureau.

“As we [have not] verified the authenticity of the document, we cannot comment on the same or address misconceived allegations therein,” the NGO said.

But Mr Adrian Jjuuko, the executive director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), said the report is “very worrying” and that its conclusions and recommendations smack of bias.

“We’ve seen the report and we’re very worried. On our end, we have not received any notification of an investigation that is being done by the NGO Bureau,” said Mr Jjuuko, whose organisation HRAPF is among those investigated.

Last month, HRAPF was accused of sponsoring a controversial by-law in Kasese that attempted to have LGBTiQ rights recognised in the municipality of the Rwenzori District.

“We are an organisation of lawyers and if our work is regarded as promotion of homosexuality, then all the work of lawyers who defend other persons whose conduct is criminalised should be regarded as promoting the criminal acts that their clients may be accused of,” Mr Jjuuko reasoned.

Mr Frank Mugisha, the executive director of SMUG, said it was a “witch-hunt” and that the NGO Bureau has “created a hit list”.

“The LGBTiQ community is already vulnerable and [now] they want to erase the human rights of LGBTiQ persons entirely,” he opined.

Pushback against activism
While same-sex relations are a criminal offence in Uganda under the Penal Code Act, the law largely remains on paper. Even the Sexual Offences Bill that was passed by Parliament in 2021 is largely political.

In Uganda’s modern law, same-sex relations were first criminalised by the British colonial rule in 1950 under Section 145 of the Penal Code Act.

Over the last two decades, however, the Global North has insisted that sexual minorities be accorded rights to live openly without discrimination. This has not been without pushback from countries in the Global South such as Uganda. And more recently, the country has found itself caught in a panic over same-sex relationships after episodes in schools thrust the issue in the news cycle.

“I want to alert you that attempts are being made from all corners because the money from these groups seems to be a lot,” Mr Tayebwa told the House last month.

But Mugisha said, in its pushback, Parliament was gleaning political rewards from the issue.
“Given the moral atrophy of Parliament, they look for easy baits from which they assert themselves as vanguards of morality,”  Mr Mugisha said.

On its part, the NGO Bureau notes that some organisations start with genuine mission but are forced by financial constraints to modify their objectives.

The report consequently recommends that the government devises a mechanism of supporting indigenous NGOs so that they are not lured into engaging in promotion of LGBTiQ activities to attract donor funding.

NGOs under investigation
1. Freedom and Roam Uganda
2.    Uganda Key Population Consortium
3.    Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum Uganda
4.    Lady Bird Empowerment Centre
5.    FEM Alliance Uganda
6.    Rainbow Mirrors Uganda
7.    Women with a Mission
8.    Initiative for Rescue Uganda
9.    Icebreakers Uganda
10.   East African Visual Artists
11.   Justice and Economic Empowerment for Women and Girls’ Foundation Uganda Ltd
12.   Visual Echoes for Human Rights Advocacy (VEHRA)
13.   Children of the Sun Foundation Uganda
14.   Refugee Support Project
15.   Empowered at Dusk Women’s Association (EADWA)
16.   Men of the night Uganda
17.   Serving Lives Under Marginalisation (SLUM)
18.   Service Workers in Group Foundation Uganda
19.   Let’s Walk Uganda
20.   Come out Post Test Club—Uganda (COPTEC)
21.   Hope Mbale
22.   Universal Coalition of Affirming Africans Uganda