Uganda: Religious leaders & HIV activists petition parliament

On Monday 01 March 2010 a delegation of activists AIDS service providers, Spiritual mentors and counsellors took centre stage in Kampala when they met the Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda Rt. Hon. Edward Ssekandi Kiwanuka over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and later held a press conference at the National Theatre. The group presented the Speaker with a petition calling for the rejection of the draconian Bill. The online petition by the time of the meeting had been signed by over 450,000 people from across the world.

Meeting the Speaker

The delegation led by Rtd. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, handed the Hon. Ssekandi the petition. The petitioners included renowned HIV/AIDS activist Rtd. Maj. Rubaramira Ruranga, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Florence Kaluba from ICW, and Frank Mugisha of SMUG. The petition urged the Speaker to withdraw the draconian bill from parliament saying; Canon Gideon Byamugisha told the speaker; “This bill is not about preserving Ugandan culture and traditions. On the contrary it is violating our cultures, traditions and religious values that teach against intolerance, injustice, hatred and violence.”

1. L – R Bishop Ssenyonjo, Hon. Ssekandi, Canon Byamugisha, Mr. Mugisha and Maj Ruranga.

2. Canon Gideon handing the petition to the Speaker of Parliament Hon. Ssekandi [photos by Avaaz]]

The Speaker in his response to the petition, said: “We cannot withdraw the Bill at this stage; it’s already a property of Parliament and MPs on the committee to handle this will give an opportunity to all the sides and a report will be presented for debate.” Before the activists had walked out of Parliament, Pastor Martin Ssempa, one of the leading supporters of the Bill, wrote to the Speaker asking him to reject their petition.

The Press Conference

Over 60 reporters/journalists mostly Ugandan attended the conference from different media houses and a few international ones. These were; NTV, WBS-TV, UBC-TV, NBS TV, Sanyu FM, Kingdom FM, KFM, UBC-radio, Ddembe, Magic FM, Arua One, The Daily Monitor, The New Vision, The Independent, Sunrise, East African, Reuters, BBC, Xtra, DW-radio/TV, IPS, AP, IPA, etc.

The delegates proceeded to speak to the media at a press conference held at the National Theatre close to the Parliament. However, SMUG Director was not on the conference panel. Journalists asked why he was absent and Major Rubaramira was quick to defend Mr. Mugisha’s absence; “When bullets are coming your way, you may need to take cover for a while,” Rubaramira said. “There is nothing brave about allowing yourself to die before you fight the war.”

Press Conference at National Theatre [photo by Pepe]

When asked how the petition will change the bill, Florence Baluba the Director of ICW [an advocacy organization for women living with HIV] said, “The Speaker said there are issues that need to be revisited. I don’t think the bill will be rejected, but some of the more hostile parts, like the death penalty, will hopefully be relaxed a bit.”

Health, HIV/AIDS and LGBT

HIV/AIDS activists acknowledge that the continued stigmatization of homosexuality will drive homosexuals and bisexuals further underground, reducing their access to HIV prevention and care services and increasing their vulnerability to HIV. Men who have sex with men are considered a most at-risk population, but there are no national HIV strategies addressing their needs.

Major Rubaramira Ruranga added; “The bill creates a situation where [homosexual] people living with HIV will be denied treatment. We do not need a new law that picks one section of society and says this should be punished.”

Due to security reasons and the rain, not many LGBT activists turned up for the event. However, among the few were Frank, Pepe, Dennis, Robert, Ruth, Akram and Auf. Well-wisher and Human Rights advocate Adrian Jjuuko was present. Dennis and Pepe were swarmed by the press, they briefly commented on bill and the challenges it creates in health service access;

“It is not easy to access medical services; we have private doctors who treat us but they charge us [a great deal] because they are very few,” said Julian Pepe Onziema, Program Coordinator of Sexual Minorities Uganda. “When you go to the doctor you have to give them a medical history; the bill will make this even harder.”

“If the government does not come out to help minorities, HIV is coming back; I know many married people who are bi-sexual,” said Dennis Wamala, Programmes Coordinator for Ice Breakers, a local gay rights organization.

SMUG is pleased to be part of the delegation that delivered the petition to the Speaker of Parliament and coordination of the press conference.

Special thanks to Gideon Foundation, ICW, NGEN+, HFAP, Avaaz, PDU, SMUG, Noerine Kaleeba patron TASO.

We at SMUG would like to thank every single person who contributed to the success of this conference.
Links

Uganda Statement
Uganda Monitor Report
Online protesters keep spotlight on Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Report compiled by: Pepe Julian Onziema, Program Coordinator, Sexual Minorities Uganda
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