The African Men for Sexual Health and Rights [AMSHeR] has strongly condemned the unlawful shutting down of a human rights workshop in Kampala on Monday, 18 June 2012 by the police under the auspices of Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister, Simon Lokodo.
A statement released in Johannesburg on 19 June signed by Kene C. Esom, the Director of Policy and the Law reads:
“AMSHeR finds such actions in contradiction of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda which guarantees the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association [art. 29], respect of dignity [art. 24] and equality and non-discrimination [art. 21]. The actions of the police and Minister Simon Lokodo also contravene Uganda’s similar obligations and commitments under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights [art. 2,6,9,10,11], the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [art. 2,9,19,21,22], and other international human rights instruments which similarly guarantee the above rights and freedoms.”
AMSHeR is a regional coalition of 17 MSM/LGBTI-led organisations in 15 African countries working to address the vulnerability of men who have sex with men (MSM) to HIV. The coalition also advocates for the respect and protection of the human rights of sexual minorities in Africa including the abolition of laws, policies and practices that promote violence, stigma and discrimination.
“State-sponsored homophobic attacks and discrimination encourage violence against LGBTI people and a culture of impunity. These actions of the Ugandan government demonstrate to other state and non-state actors including the police and the general population that it is acceptable to violate the human rights of LGBTI persons because of their sexual orientation and gender identities,” said Kene Esom, AMSHeR’s Director of Policy and the Law.
“The government and its agencies have the duty to protect the human rights of all persons within its territory, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Kene added.
The aim of the training workshop, which was organized by the Kampala-based East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, was to provide human rights defenders with the skills to monitor, document and seek redress for human rights violations.
Such actions by the police prevent adequate monitoring and reporting of human rights violations targeting sexual minorities.
Pepe Onziema, a human rights defender with Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), said: “This workshop was aimed at empowering us with the skills to document these violations in order to better engage government on the need to protect the rights of LGBTI people in Uganda.”
AMSHeR is urging the Ugandan government to honour its domestic and international obligations and commitments to respect, protect and ensure the fulfilment of rights of all people within its territory; and to particularly protect minority groups from violence and discrimination by taking proactive steps to put in place measures that prevent the violation of their human rights. The Government must also hold public officials and state institutions to the highest standard of decorum and discipline. Public officials who use the cloak of state power to violate rights must be brought to justice.
The workshop brought together 20 human rights defenders from Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, as well as seven staff of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project. It was held at the Esella Country Hotel, Najjera, Kampala when the organisers learned that the Ethics and Integrity Minister, Simon Lodoko had deployed police to shut down the meeting.
About ten journalists arrived at venue and began taking photographs of the participants; the police, led by the head of the Kampala Metropolitan Criminal Investigations Department, arrived subsequently. The police condoned off the meeting venue and began questioning participants, forcibly entering the rooms of some of the participants and detaining about six of the participants in a police van for some time.
This is the second incident of unlawful shutting down of a human rights workshop by the Ethics and Integrity Minister this year. In February, the Minister similarly shut down a human rights training workshop in Entebbe, Uganda alleging that it was promoting homosexuality.