US accused of funding Ugandan homophobes
A gay rights organisation claims it has uncovered evidence that the U.S. government has funded groups in Uganda that actively promote discrimination against lesbians and gay men.
In a letter to U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul, The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has criticised funding the groups and has asked for assurances that U.S. government funds are not being used to support homophobic organisations anywhere in the world.
2007 has seen the first gay rights press conference and the first anti-gay rally in Uganda.
In August gay rights activists in spoke out about the prejudice LGBT people face in the country.
30 people gave a press conference drawing attention to the state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia they face every day.
The following week churches in the country showed their disapproval with a demonstration organised by the Uganda Joint Christian Council.
UJCC member churches include the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. There has been rising tension in the country over gay and lesbian rights.
Gay sex is punishable in Uganda by life imprisonment, under laws originally introduced by the British colonial administration in the nineteenth century.
IGLHRC says that a “primary instigator” of the religious backlash against the LGBT community in Uganda was Pastor Martin Ssempa, leader of the Makerere University Community Church and spokesman for the Interfaith Family Culture Coalition Against Homosexuality in Uganda.
The commission says that Ssempa organised the Christian rally in Kampala, at which more than one hundred demonstrators, including several government officials, demanded official action against LGBT people.
Ssempa has called homosexual conduct, “a criminal act against the laws of nature,” and has said that, “there should be no rights granted to homosexuals in this country.”
According to the U.S. Embassy in Uganda’s website, Makerere University Community Church received a grant under a programme designed to provide funds for AIDS prevention, treatment and care programmes in Africa.
With support from conservative organisations such as Family Watch International in the United States, Ssempa has launched attacks not only on homosexuals but on Uganda’s women’s rights and HIV activists as well, claims ILGHRC.
“The U.S. government’s funding is meant to alleviate suffering and support effective AIDS initiatives in Africa, not to further blame and stigmatise already marginalised groups,” said IGLHRC Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick.
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IGLHRC has provided Ambassador Dybul with evidence of grants made by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Makerere University Community Church.
IGLHRC has also investigated homophobic Muslim groups in Uganda and claims that the Uganda Muslim Tabliqh Women’s Desk has also received a grant under the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to implement HIV programmes in Masaka District.
Recently, Muslim Tabliqh youth announced a plan to form an ‘Anti-Gay Squad’ to fight homosexuality in Uganda.
In August 2007, Sheikh Multah Bukenya, a senior cleric in the Tabliqh Organization, was quoted during prayers at Noor Mosque in Kampala as saying that his followers are “ready to act swiftly and form this squad that will wipe out all abnormal practices like homosexuality in our society.”
PEPFAR is a $15 billion (£7.5bn) Bush administration fund to fight AIDS in Africa.
According to IGLHRC’s 2007 report, Off the Map: How HIV/AIDS Programming is Failing Same-Sex Practicing People in Africa, less than U.S. $1 million targets HIV programs for men who have sex with men in Africa, despite strong evidence that HIV has a disproportionate impact on LGBT communities throughout the continent.