That is exactly the question many families and relatives of homosexuals are reported to be asking in and nearby towns of Kampala the capital of Uganda.
Since a Member of Parliament (MP) David Bahati, from the ruling party National Resistance Movement (NRM), introduced the Anti-gay Bill, the so-called “undesirables” have been going on including; the brutal murder of David Kato, a Ugandan gay rights activist.
Kato was brutally murdered after a Ugandan tabloid The Rolling Stone (not connected the American Magazine) published his photo and those of others on the front page with a banner ‘Hang Them’. In addition to encouraging such violence, the current climate undercuts efforts to combat AIDS, discouraging gay people from seeking HIV prevention information and testing. Instead the environment continues to be hostile for homosexuals. Those that manage to escape detection and the mob remain in hiding and forget about their human rights.
Those critical of the controversial anti-gay bill contend that the brutal murder of Kato occurred after the former Ugandan Minister of Ethics and Integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, had publically announced that: “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.” Members of the homosexual community continue to disappear.
Yet not everyone who disappears and is persecuted and harassed is gay or lesbian. People who give any assistance to the homosexuals have also gone missing and now some relatives of the missing ones are raising questions.
A relative of nurse Sarah Barungi, a mother of two who has been working on an Acute Children’s ward; at the National Referral Hospital, Mulago, has not been seen for the last four months. The relatives have searched in vain for Ms Barungi, 36, who has been a resident of Bweyogere on Kampala-Jinja highway.
“We haven’t seen her [Ms Barungi] for the last four months. She has been our savior, assisting us with some medication which we couldn’t access from hospital,” one of the lesbians in the group that has been getting some medications through the missing nurse told this reporter, adding that: “Many of my friends [the lesbians] are in hiding with no treatment, because all medics fear for their lives to give us any help, they don’t want to be perceived as helpers of the homosexuals.”
“We don’t know whether she is still alive, we last saw her on August 16, when she delivered some medication to one of our colleagues who was in a critical condition. Since then there is no news of her whereabouts,” she said. “You can imagine the welfare of her children. We lost hope of finding her, yes, she is not a lesbian but a well known nurse, there is no way she would have sneaked out of the country,” a tearful lesbian told this newspaper in reference to Ms Barungi who might have fallen a victim of rage against homosexuals in the country.
She added: “The atmosphere here is just atrocious. You can’t look for a relative for more than two or three months and remain with hope that she is still alive. If you go to any police station, it is not easy to start mentioning someone’s name associated to gays or lesbians. The authority will continue to deny and nobody is going to help. Some people are kept in ‘Safe Houses’, for the purpose of getting them out of circulation or denying the gays any appearance in public anymore.”
“How can you expect to get access to safe houses when the security agents have the full backing of the president, clergymen and the local population around the country?”
So-called safe houses are undisclosed residential buildings where security forces are said to detain people, some of whom are subjected to torture or even killed.
“Yes, we received a complaint of the disappearance of Ms Barungi a couple of weeks ago, and this week I have been going through several files of people reported to have disappeared,” an officer in charge of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at Bweyogere Police Station, covering the jurisdiction, told this reporter in a telephone interview.
The officer declined to list the names of the gay people reported to have disappeared since the brutal murder of Kato in January this year: “If you want to get all the names just come here, because I can’t discuss these sensitive matter over the phone.”
What is not understood is why homosexuality would be a very serious matter as the officer said during the interview. Police and other security agencies deny being responsible for any of the disappearances and suggest that some people who have gone missing in the past four months may have been the victims of common criminals. But the persistent denial by the authorities remains contemptuous or doesn’t dispel fears, because homosexuality is considered illegal in Uganda.
MP Bahati, architect of the anti-gay bill, is espoused of President Museveni, who has previously made strong anti-gay statement in recent times.
The country’s President Yoweri Museveni who has been in power for a quarter of century, is a strong supporter of ‘Preserving African Culture’. He previously described homosexuality as a “negative culture”. The Anti-gay Bill was only shelved in May this year after worldwide condemnation and western countries’ threats to cut aid given to Uganda. Even then, life for the homosexuals remains at risk with no person or authority where they can complain or seek protection.
On August 17, 2008, under the headline “Museveni backs church against gays,” The New Vision reported that during the consecration of the Rev. Canon Patrick Gidudu, as the seventh Bishop of Mbale Diocese, speaking against homosexuality, Gen. Museveni, said: “I salute the Archbishop and bishops of Africa for resisting disorientation and a decadent culture being passed by Western nations.”
“Don’t fear, resist and do not compromise on that. It is a danger not only to the believers but to the whole of Africa. It is bad if our children become complacent and think that people who are not in order are alright,” the President was quoted as saying.
The bill was only stayed after the intervention of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the US President Barack Obama who described the anti-gay bill as “Odious.”
Last year, a total of 118 British Members of Parliament signed an Early Day Motion (EDM 575) condemning the Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
The EDM 575 was drafted by former East London Labour MP Harry Hohen and Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, arguing the Uganda government to “Uphold international humanitarian laws by abandoning the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, decriminalizing same-sex acts between consenting adults in private and outlawing discrimination against gay people.”
The Bill violates Article 21 of the constitution of Uganda which guarantees equality and non-discrimination. The article talks of equality and freedom from discrimination; Clause (1) states: “All persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life and in every other respect and shall enjoy equal protection of law.” But that is none existent for the homosexuals in Uganda. It also breaches the equality and anti-discrimination clauses 2, 3 and 4 of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, which Uganda signed and pledged to uphold.
Some donor countries including, Canada, the UK, and Sweden had threatened that if Uganda doesn’t discard the proposed law intended to severely punish homosexuals, they would cut aid given to the country.
The anti-gay Bill not only poses danger to gay people in Uganda but also those giving assistance to them. It was only shelved when it gained global opposition.
Was the missing Ms Barungi simply mistakenly picked during security sweeps that have seen hundreds of activists for the “Walk to Work” campaigns being detained in several jails around the country?
The relative adds that: “Ms Barungi has been trailed by security agents ever since they discovered that she was giving medical assistance to a couple of lesbians in hiding.” This newspaper has independently learned Ms Barungi was not a lesbian, but an innocent nurse who professionally made a vow to give treatment to anybody irrespective of his/her life style.
Separately, the area Local Counselor (LC), Kakajjo Zone, Martin Ssegujja an administrative official, said: “I can’t comment on security matters, I advised her relatives to take the matter to the attention of the police.” What is not understood is how a disappearance of gay/lesbian becomes an important security matter!
Also a doctor at the hospital where Ms Barungi has been working who also preferred not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, said: “We haven’t seen her for some time. I just hear rumours that she was giving some medication to the homos, but we haven’t seen any discrepancies in our records to ascertain any missing medication from the stores here. Maybe they were giving her some money to secretly buy the medication,” a doctor at national referral hospital told this newspaper, but he couldn’t tell under what circumstance Ms Barungi disappeared.
Additionally, the police Spokesperson, Judith Nabakooba denied involvement by the police. “I don’t know whether we hold anybody in our custody. You can talk to Ssekate,” she said by telephone, when asked about the reported disappearance of a medical nurse. But we have independently established that, the case was reported and recorded at Bweyogere police station as SD/RLF/0425/10/2011.
However, Police Spokesperson Nabakooba referred this reporter to her second in command because she was not willingly open for more comments on the matter.
When I contacted the deputy police Spokesperson, Vicent Ssekate, he requested to give him time to investigate the matter. “It is better I get the details of the case, then you get back to me when I have an idea of what you’re talking about,” said the deputy police spokesperson. When asked if he is aware of the case, Mr Ssekate said: “First give me those details, and then I make a follow-up. If you send me the details, I will follow-up the matter.”
Additionally, a security agent at Kireka Rapid Response Unit, said: “The lead agents in persecuting the homosexuals are the local community, so if there are disappearances, the police can address your question.” Although, Human Rights Watch has documented several reports accusing the unit for its illegal methods of torture, and serious violation of human rights of people it arrest and detains, the officer said that: “Anything about the arrests and detentions, ask the police in her area because they are responsible of any arrest or prosecution. I heard about the name [Barungi], but we don’t have such a person here.”
“My feeling about this bill is that it is unconstitutional and really putting a lot of us under cruel harassment,” Jacqueline another lesbian told this newspaper. She added that: “We’re already feeling the heat of it. In a country when a leader says negative things towards a minority group, society takes it as something they should do.” Jacqueline was referring to President Museveni’s stance against the gays and what he tells the local population about the gays.
Although, other protests in the country are prohibited, protesters who support the anti-homosexuality bill, have been previously give an Olive branch by the state to carry placards in all town and city streets, with written messages such; “Think about our children”, “Together we kick homosexuality out of Uganda”, and “Homosexuals beware of God’s wrath.”
“So we are already suffering. People are stoning us on the streets; people are refusing to sell us stuff. It [the bill] would mean I could not have my relationship in this country. When you look at the bill it is out rightly saying people should not exist in this country and they are calling for the death penalty. I am a human being. And this puts me under the microscope ready to be killed.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union High Representative have urged Uganda to engage in an informed debate and repeal all legislation that criminalises same sex and other “unnatural” sexual behaviour.
Recently, the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights issued a statement calling on the Uganda government to repeal the anti-gay and ‘unnatural sex’ legislation. In a statement, the call was “not claiming new or special rights’ but affirming human rights as they apply to diverse sexual orientations and gender identities” as both UN treaty bodies and international jurisprudence repeatedly have declared that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) are protected by existing human rights treaties.”
The call to Uganda to repeal anti-gay and “unnatural sex” legislation came at a time when a private member’s Bill remains on the table to criminalise homosexuality, though the Penal Code already provides for such offences.
Some religious leaders are also against the homosexuals, Pastor Martin Ssempa, an anti-gay activist, recently said the UN had been hijacked by “sodomites”, who were “forcing it down our throat”. He said homosexuality was a “violation of reproductive rights” and practitioners were “victims of bad parenting”. “Homosexuality is curable,” he explained. In recent times LBGTI have become more vocal in agitating for their rights with international support.
Recently, the European Union High Representative, Catherine Ashton, said the Union “reaffirm the strong commitment of the European Union – and myself – to the entitlement of all persons to enjoy the full range of human rights without discrimination.”
In reference to the shelved bill, Ndorwa West MP Bahati, the man behind the launch of the controversial Bill, last week insisted that the proposed legislation is a property of Parliament and the Executive should stop “playing hide-and-seek games” on the matter.
Now relatives of Adella Ashabomwe also a lesbian and Sarah Busingye, say they are ready to throw in their towels. They have searched for their loved-one in vain, that it’s time to throw in the towel. Despite world-wide condemnations against the controversial anti-gay bill; gays and lesbian remain in a state of panic, fear and despair in Uganda.
Author: Christine D Wearn