What should we make of defence of homosexuals?

Author: Adrian Jjuuko. PHOTO/HANDOUT

What you need to know:

  • It is as if all organisations doing human rights work are engaged in this ‘promotion’ of homosexuality.

Recently, the NGO Bureau is reported to have owned up to a leaked document that shows the status of its investigations into organisations that are ‘suspected to be involved in the promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) activities in the country.’ 

The report quite contrary to the Bureau’s own findings after considering the objectives of four organisations, concludes that there is ‘promotion’ of homosexuality going on by NGOs, which are doing this while hiding behind human rights work. The Bureau does not define ‘promotion’ and simply assumes that everyone automatically knows what this is. 

This report comes upon the backdrop of the deputy Speaker of Parliament asserting that Kasese Municipal Council was considering a bylaw that seeks to ‘recognise homosexuals and transgender people as minorities’ and that homosexuals were targeting children and that the nation needed to stand firm against this. 

I am the executive director of one of the organisations named in that report as being investigated - Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF). While we thought that state officials would approach us, asking about any of our work or our role in the Kasese by-law, no one has done so, not even the NGO Bureau. We, however, think that these allegations should not be ignored as this has degenerated into a campaign against our work. 

HRAPF is a lawyer’s organisation founded in 2008, and has given legal aid services to over 20,000 persons over the years, who include indigent women and the elderly facing land justice issues, sexual minorities, sex workers and people who use drugs. 

We also do advocacy for legal reform in favour of equality for all persons, including in the health sector, as well as challenging discriminatory laws in courts of law. That is the work of lawyers – and it is legitimately protected under the Constitution. Article 40(2) protects the right to practice one’s profession, and Article 38(2) gives the right to every Ugandan to participate in peaceful activities to influence the policies of government through civic organisations. HRAPF is duly registered with the NGO Bureau, submits annual reports and all its work is published on its website. There is nothing to hide. 

To regard the legal defence of homosexuals and other minorities as ‘promotion of homosexuality’ just because same-sex sexual conduct is a criminal offence would imply that lawyers should no longer defend any suspected criminals! 

Similarly, asking local councils to pass a law that ensures access to health services for all or asking Parliament to decriminalise consensual same-sex relations among adults cannot be promotion of the criminalised acts. Researching or writing about homosexuality also cannot be regarded as promotion of the same. If this was to be so, then it would effectively mean the end of criminal law practice, academic freedom and the work of civic organisations. 

In Kasese, HRAPF engaged a consultant to seek the views of Kasese Municipal Council on developing a by-law that enables key populations as defined by the Ministry of Health to access HIV services without discrimination. This work was being done under the Government of Uganda’s own approved National Plan for Achieving Equality in Access to HIV, TB and Malaria. 

HRAPF and some of the other listed organisations are registered entities that voluntarily chose to register and be regulated. They have known addresses, operate in broad daylight and do what almost every other organisation does – legal aid, research, legal and health advocacy. The NGO Bureau can easily use its inspection powers under the NGO Act to engage them and satisfy itself as to the legality of their work. Why have they not done so? 

Adrian Jjuuko is the executive director, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF)