Rights body in Uganda urges parliament to decriminalise homosexuality

The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has called on the newly sworn in Ugandan 9th Parliament to decriminalize homosexuality. In the Commission’s 13th annual report to Uganda’s Parliament on the human rights situation in the country, the UHRC said it was “Gravely concerned that homosexual behaviour was criminalized in Uganda.”

The UHRC was established under the 1995 Constitution. The annual reports to Parliament are part of its mandate. This is the second consecutive report in which the state-funded Commission has urged the government to observe the human rights of homosexuals in Uganda.

The commission’s position on the subject has in the past earned it rebukes from anti-gay cabinet ministers and legislators, including former Ethics and Integrity Minister, James Nsaba Buturo. The rights organisation’s critics say the government did not appoint Commissioners to promote “criminals.”

However, the Commission’s consistent highlighting of the violent hate crimes meted out to Ugandans for their real or alleged sexual orientation hopes to bring about a change of heart in state policy making circles. The report entitled, “The 13th Annual Report 2010 to the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda” was launched June 28, in Kampala.

The UHRC Chairperson, Meddi Kaggwa said there had been increased incidents of mob justice around the country and called for more resources to educate the public on the rule of law. He noted that many people did not know that when suspects are arrested by the police, they have a right to be released on police bond or bail in courts of law.

Rosely Karugonjo-Segawa, the Commission’s Director for Monitoring and Inspection said they had chosen to make recommendations decriminalizing homosexuality in line with the commission’s mandate to improving the human rights situation of homosexuals in the country; and also realign Uganda’s compliance with international human rights tools and protocols.

She said the recommendations in the commission’s report were part of Uganda’s reporting to the Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Uganda ratified CEDAW in July 1985. “The CEDAW recommendations are also part of our (Commission’s) position on sexual orientation. As you are aware last year we took a position to call for the non-passing of the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009 by Parliament,” she said.

Karugonjo said the recommendations formed part of the seventh periodic report submitted to CEDAW by Uganda which were considered on October 2010.

The commission’s report called on the Uganda government to “Intensify its efforts to combat decriminalization against women on account of their sexual orientation and gender identity, including by launching a senstisation campaign aimed at the general public, as well as providing appropriate training to law enforcement officials and other relevant actors.”

Uganda is yet to ratify international protocols denouncing torture, and human rights activists have been highlighting the numerous covert unlawful detention centres across the country, commonly called “safe houses.”

LGBTI activists welcomed the commission’s report saying it was “timely.” An officer of the Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, Jeffrey Ogwaro said he was delighted by the report. The coalition is made up of 30 organisations made up of gay rights and gay sympathisers groups in Uganda.

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