Shadow Report to CEDAW by Freedom and Roam Uganda and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
This shadow report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) describes the experiences of people who face discrimination because of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. We are the lesbian, bisexual, transgender (LBT), kuchu, gender non-conforming, and women who have sex with women (WSW) community of Uganda. We are part of a larger lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community within Uganda.
Uganda’s laws prohibit homosexual conduct. The penal code is harsh in this regard, and punishes homosexual acts with life imprisonment on conviction. Lesbians and bisexual women face the same persecution from both State and non-State actors as do gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM). Proposed laws such as the Anti Homosexuality Bill of 2009 would increase this persecution immeasurably if passed, including the death penalty among its punishments and targeting human rights defenders in particular.
Homophobia fuels abuse against all people who defy sex and gender norms, regardless of a person's actual sexual orientation or gender identity. Whether someone identifies as transgender, is intersex, or dresses in a manner perceived to be too masculine or improper for a woman, they are accused of being homosexual – gay or lesbian – and persecuted because of this perceived identity. Over the years, LBT/kuchu and WSW people in Uganda have been harassed, cajoled, insulted, discriminated against and have been referred to as beasts. We have been called inhuman, insane, sick, immoral and not upright-thinking members of society.
We have been dismissed from our families, homes, schools, jobs, churches, and hospitals. Many of us whose sexual orientation or gender identity is what is considered to be non-conforming have been taunted and attacked physically on the streets, in our homes, in churches, and in all social places. We do not get the medical care we require because of discrimination and ignorance of our health needs.
Given the criminal status of homosexuality in Uganda, and the overwhelming homophobia of society, LGBTI organizing has been extremely challenging. It has been difficult for LGBTI people to “come out” and to openly and actively participate in the LGBTI movement because of continued public threats and hostile messages from both the State and segments of the public. For those of us who have taken a bold stand to publicly identify as LGBTI, we have been arrested, attacked, hounded and tortured.
The LGBTI movement has struggled to build a collective voice, hampered by a lack of strong support systems and the continued crises brought about by hate crimes and deep-seated social hostility. This is because we live in fear of arrest or rape and therefore keep a low profile in an attempt to survive, limiting our organizing or activism commitments. The lives of Ugandan LBT/kuchu people in particular have for so long been suppressed by individuals, families, the media, the Church and by politicians because of our gender, our sexual orientation, gender identity, and our gender expression. This has made many LBT/kuchu people homeless, jobless, and hopeless. Most of us who are at the front line of the movement have been significantly economically and socially disempowered.
We are doubly marginalized by the legal and social condemnation of LBT/kuchu people in Uganda and the legal and social marginalization of women, a combination that leads to the constant violation of our human rights. On a daily basis, we face violations to our rights to life, to security, to be free from violence, to privacy, to health, to education, to employment, to housing, to freedom of movement to freedom of expression and association, to political representation, and to advocate for our own human rights.
As such, we recommend that the Government of Uganda:
- Repeal Articles 145, 146, and 148 of the Ugandan Penal Code, decriminalizing consensual sexual activity between persons of the same sex;
- Repeal laws that implicitly discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, such as Sections 15(6)(d) (i) and (ii) of the Equal Opportunities Commission Act, which prevents the Commission from investigating rights violations that may be considered immoral;
- Oppose the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 (Bill 18) in all of its forms and any similar legislation that explicitly or implicitly targets people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity;
- Protect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, in anti-discrimination and equal opportunity legislation and bodies – including explicit protections against dismissal from employment and eviction from housing on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and explicit protections against sexual violence;
- Investigate and appropriately address non-state violence against LBT/kuchu people; Publicly condemn all acts of violence, discrimination and intolerance against individuals on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity;
- End police abuse of LBT/kuchu people and LBT/kuchu human rights defenders, and institute mechanisms to hold offenders accountable;
- Protect the human rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity in anti-discrimination and equal opportunity legislation and bodies, including explicit protections against sexual violence, dismissal from employment, eviction from housing, and expulsion from school;
- Support the efforts of civil society to gather information about and provide services to improve the health of LBT people, including with regard to sexual health; and
- Support the efforts of civil society to gather information about the health of LBT/kuchu people, including sexual health, and to work to improve the health and well-being of LBT/kuchu communities.
With documented incidents of abuse and testimony from lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Uganda who have suffered a variety of human rights violations, this report illuminates a number of ways that LBT/kuchu Ugandans, and indeed all Ugandans who do not fit strict gender roles, are daily placed at risk. While these recommendations highlight the most urgent interventions, a number of additional suggestions that merit adoption are included by theme throughout this report.