Kampala, Uganda; 9 April 2020
We are in unprecedented times.
Reports from Wakiso, Masaka and Kampala confirm what we already knew – this pandemic is hitting LGBTIQ people the hardest.
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) is appalled by the gross violation of rights of LGBTIQ persons by Ugandan authorities during the enforcement of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.
On 29th March 2020, the mayor of Nsangi Town Council Hajji Abdul Kiyimba and some officers of the Uganda Police Force, under the auspices of the Security Inter-Agency Joint Task Force, raided the LGBTIQ shelter Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF) in Kyengera Town Council, Wakiso district, about nine kilometres outside of Kampala City along the Kampala-Masaka highway, and arbitrarily arrested twenty-three (23) residents of the shelter. Upon the arrest, COSF’s Executive Director clarified that while fifteen (15) of the arrested were shelter residents, eight (8) were not shelter residents. Five (5) of the non-shelter residents were visiting from another shelter, one (1) was a guest to one of the residents and one (1) a resident nurse; bringing the total to nineteen (19). According to a police statement, the 23 are being charged with: Doing “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease” contrary to Section 171 of Penal Code Act.
After being held in police custody for one night, four (4) people were released by the police on Monday the 30th March 2020 on health grounds. The 19 were then arraigned before the Chief Magistrates Court of Nsangi and remanded to Kitalya Prison until 29th April 2020, when they will be returned to Court.
The charge against the shelter residents appear contradictory to the Presidential Directive on COVID-19 that essentially requires people to stay at home, which was precisely what the 23 shelter residents were doing. The invasion and arrests were however carried out from a homophobic stance. Although the charges listed above seem unconnected to homosexuality, SMUG has learnt that in fact the initial charge against all the shelter residents was that of “carnal knowledge” as under Section 145 of the Penal Code Act. According to Dr. Frank Mugisha, the Executive Director of SMUG, “The change of charges from ‘carnal knowledge’ to a ‘negligent act’ is a way of the errant authorities covering up their homophobic acts while abusing the presidential directive to harass LGBTIQ persons.”
Available evidence of local media footage that SMUG has reviewed moreover support the claim that the invasion and arrests were motivated by homophobia. In the footage, some neighbours of the shelter and leaders of the area were noted saying that they were worried about the ‘homosexual’ behaviour of the youths in the raided shelter. Mayor Abdul Kiyimba is moreover seen whipping and verbally lashing out at two of the shelter residents while forcing them to admit that they are homosexuals.
About this, Frank Mugisha states, “First and foremost, it is unlawful to carry out such arbitrary raids on private property and arrests of peace-loving citizens. But it is most hurtful and rather irresponsible of the Nsangi Town Council Mayor Hajji Abdul Kiyimba and some Uganda Police Force officers to appeal to homophobic sentiments while purporting to enforce COVID-19 prevention and control measures in this illegal manner.”
Increase in raids, arbitrary arrests and detention of LGBTIQ Persons
The recent crackdown on LGBTIQ+ people under the guise of COVID-19 measures is an extension of the trend during the past six months whereby the Uganda Police Force officers have continuously disregarded the rights to liberty, privacy, dignity and equality of LGBTIQ+ Ugandans.
On 6th March 2020, police officers descended upon 13 LGBTIQ+ persons who were part of an HIV outreach in Masaka district and detained them overnight without clear charges. The 13 were released the following day, and subsequently their property was given back to them.
In October 2019, police officers arrested 16 people from another shelter in Wakiso district accusing them of homosexuality. They also descended upon another group of over 125 people in an LGBTIQ friendly social space in Kampala and subsequently charged them with being a ‘public nuisance’.
CALL TO ACTION:
- We call upon the Government of Uganda, at all levels, to ensure the security, safety and wellbeing of all Ugandans regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression during this period of combatting COVID-19 – as always.
- We urge the police authorities and other law enforcement in Uganda to protect and respect the fundamental human rights of LGBTIQ people in Uganda, consistent with the Constitution of Uganda.
- We also urge the leadership of the Uganda Police Force, Uganda Human Rights Commission and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions to investigate the raid and arrests carried out at the Nsangi-based LGBTIQ shelter, drop the charges unfairly presented against the shelter residents, and ensure that those who abused their positions of power on that fateful day are held accountable for human rights violations committed against the LGBTIQ community.
- We call upon the media to respectfully report cases concerning human rights violation of LGBTIQ people without bias or subjecting them to further risk by exposing their faces to the public and incriminating suspects before justice is served.
- We call upon the Diplomatic partners to bilaterally engage our government on the protection and safety of LGBTIQ people in Uganda.
- To the LGBTIQ community we urge you to stay calm and vigilant and immediately report any violations to the relevant security agencies and local organizations. SMUG will remain open during this period to attend to the legal, health, mental and economic tolls this crisis may have on members of our community and ensure that the government response to this pandemic is equitable.
- We also urge the LGBT community to comply with guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health, World Health Organization and Uganda government on COVID-19, to Stay Home Stay Safe.
- To the people of Uganda, SMUG says, “At times such as these, it is imperative that we come together as community and plan, not panic. Show compassion to one another. COVID-19/Coronavirus does not discriminate.”
For more details, please contact
Email: [email protected]
- Dr. Frank Mugisha – [email protected]
- Pepe Julian Onziema – [email protected]