Monday, December 23, 2013

Uganda: Where Your Tax Dollars Are Supporting Gay Apartheid

by Nomad

The African nation of Uganda has introduced some of the harshest anti-gay laws in the world. What role has your tax dollars played in supporting the one-man rule in there? How have US evangelists help to foment anti-gay hatred? 

Uganda, the self-designated "the Pearl of Africa" is by many analysts' reckoning, a failed state. Thirty three percent of the population do not have access to safe water and 52% of people are without sanitation. Infant mortality stands at 130 in 1,000, and 26,000 children under the age of five die every year die from diarrhoeal diseases. 
There's also the raging AIDS epidemic, which has reportedly killed somewhere between 52,000 - 81,000 and has orphaned around 1 million children.

Altogether a hard sell for the Ugandan Minister of Tourism.

But if one is looking for a bright side, then Uganda's human rights record isn't it. 
And there is no better proof that the African country is failing by how much its government respects the human rights of all its citizens.

Amnesty International, in its most recent report on Ugandan human rights record, cites abuses to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly as commonplace.  Despite investigations by the Uganda Human Rights Commission on accusations of torture by police, "no action was taken to hold law enforcement officials responsible for human rights violations to account, or to grant victims and their families an effective remedy."

The influential Foreign Policy (FP) magazine noted:
“From all appearances, the democratic opening in Uganda is closing and human rights are the collateral damage.
This is not at all shocking or unusual for Uganda. 
In 2011, a UN report heavily criticized President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's leader since 1986, and his government's human rights record is only one step up from a predecessor. Idi Amin.  The report highlighted the numerous problems, such as a plan to allow detention without charge for a period of six months, Museveni's  record of silencing the press, as well as excessive force used by the government against opposition protesters.

Furthermore, the UN report urged the government to  decriminalize homosexuality and legislate against torture. What was the response?

Last week, as reported by the BBC,  the parliament there passed a bill to toughen the punishment for homosexual acts. It will now include life imprisonment and mandatory reporting of all gay activities. In a way, this draconian law could be considered an improvement on the earlier draft which would have under certain conditions, made homosexuality punishable by the death penalty.

Other provisions of the bill are, in this day and age, quite astounding.
The bill requires persons in authority (pastor, teacher, missionary, physician, parent, etc.) to report any knowledge of any offense covered by the act within 24 hours upon pain of 3 years in jail or a hefty fine. Thus, parents could be expected to turn in same-sex attracted children. Relevant to AIDS relief work, there is no exemption in the bill for professionals. If a patient reveals homosexual behavior in the course of AIDS treatment or education, then those hearing the revelation must report.
It is not legislation fit for civilized human beings. It is in fact something Orwellian. Who would want to live under such conditions? Would you?
More importantly, why would any nation in the West feel compelled to support a nation that practices such a legalized discrimination for whatever excuse? 
So why does the United States?

The Clear Divide
When resolutions in the General Assembly and the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding the inclusion of gay rights were drafted, it was easy to see that the nations of the world are split.   
The resolutions included provisions that condemned:
violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity that undermine personal integrity and dignity. It also includes condemnation of killings and executions, torture, arbitrary arrest, and deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights on those grounds.
UN gay rights resolution human rights vote by nationSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon described violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation as “a monumental tragedy for those affected and a stain on the collective consciousness.” 

Despite this, only 93 members supported the resolution while 54 member-states opposed and another 46 member-states were neutral. 

Notable opposition to the resolution came from the Catholic Church. A spokesman for the Church, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, said at that time:
"If adopted, they would create new and implacable discrimination. For example, states which do not recognise same-sex unions as 'matrimony' will be pilloried and made an object of pressure."
Admittedly this was before Pope Francis came along and asked his own qualifications to sit in judgement of gay men and women. Nevertheless, it's a perverse twist of the argument to oppose anti-discrimination resolutions because they discriminate against nations that don't follow them.  The "pressure" that the Vatican was so concerned about cannot compare to the pressure that gay Ugandans must feel every day.

A Contradiction of Policy 
To its credit, the United States took a stand and threw its support behind the UN resolutions.
Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity.
However, in the same year that Clinton said those noble words, Uganda received 469 million dollars in economic assistance from the United States. This was during the time that the bill was being debated and drafted.

The argument has always been that engagement is far better than isolation. This was the exactly the same argument used by President Reagan about legislation against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s.
Certainly, given the problems mentioned in the opening paragraph, Uganda needs help. A lot of it and America has been more than willing to give it, even during the recession. For fiscal year 2012, the United States budgeted $461 million in foreign aid to Uganda, keeping its standing as the largest donor to the East African country.

Uganda isn't the only African nation that receives massive economic assistance with laws that criminalize homosexuality. Liberia, Egypt, the Congo, Ethiopia are other African examples. 

And Uganda isn't even the largest recipient of aid. Kenya, for example received over $1 billion in assistance. However,  like Uganda,  under Kenyan law, consenting sex acts between adult males are illegal and carry a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment, except 21 years in certain aggravating circumstances. 

And in Kenya the treatment filters down to all levels. Homosexuals in Kenya are often stigmatized by health care providers. Gay men and women often face "arbitrary arrest, are often detained at the police stations, subjected to torture and unnecessary harassment by the police who extort money from them and are only released after bribing their way out. They also suffer sexual abuse from the arresting officers."
At least, the Kenyan government is making the right noises. 
Not so in Uganda. It is merely pocketing the money.

Obama on Uganda: Words But No Action
And yet, if economic aid is supposed to provide influence, to affect positive change, then that plan simply is not working. Much of the aid going to Uganda has been lost due to corruption, namely embezzlement. In fact, last year at this time, the European Union voted to suspend budget support of Uganda after it was earlier reported that up to $13 million in aid money had been stolen.  
EU Ambassador to Uganda Roberto Ridolfi called the reported misappropriation of funds, which were intended to support stabilization and development programming in Northern Uganda, “a breach of trust.”
One month earlier, in November of last year, U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott H. DeLisi announced that the United States would not cut its assistance to Uganda despite the scandal. 

Despite this unfortunate decision, President Obama is perhaps the first American president to specifically link US economic assistance with a nation's treatment of its gay and lesbian citizens.
In February 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama had strongly condemned the bill which would make some homosexual acts in Uganda a crime punishable by death. Late last year, in a historic directive, Obama instructed U.S. aid agencies to consider host countries’ treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in making funding decisions.
But that seems to be as far as Obama was willing to go. 

Mixed Messages
Part of the problem is that America is, from the Ugandan point of view, sending very mixed messages. US evangelical Christians have reportedly been working closely with Uganda politicians to support the passage of the anti-gay legislation. According to the New York Times:
Much of Africa's anti-homosexuality movement is supported by American evangelicals, the Rev. Kapya Kaoma of Zambia wrote in 2009, who are keen to export the American "culture war" to new ground. Indeed, American evangelical Christians played a role in stirring the anti-homosexual sentiment that culminated in the initial legislation in Uganda.
This would suggest that as far as institutionalized discrimination, violence, harassment  based solely on one's sexual preferences has anything to do with American culture.  Basic human rights is not a matter of culture. 
Clearly, the American evangelists have lost their battle for the hearts and minds in the US and are quickly losing whatever victories they had in blocking same-sex marriage. 

Gay rights organizations in the US charge that extreme US Christian groups have promoted and exported their anti-gay hate campaigns.  They cite the example of a Pentecostal pastor from Kampala, Martin Ssempa, and several of his colleagues.

Martin Ssempa
Ssempa the founder of the Makerere Community Church, rejects separation of church and state. He also opposes the usage of condoms to prevent HIV contraction and supports abstinence plus fidelity education in the fight against sexual diseases. His rallying cry has been:
"We have come together to defend our constitution and our culture to kick sodomy out of Uganda"
According to one source:
Ssempa’s stunts have included publishing the names of homosexuals in local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.
Ssempa has also been criticized from showing extremely graphic, extremely offensive gay porn in his church even with children in attendance. (Talk about indoctrination!)
The shock tactic was designed to horrify and it apparently succeeded.

AIDS and Ssempa's Anti-Condom Crusade
One reason that Ssempa can get away with this is because of his high level connections. He has close ties to his country’s First Lady, Janet Museveni. He was appointed “special representative of the First Lady’s Task Force on AIDS in Uganda."

In part because of Ssempa's influence, American assistance in the Uganda's war on HIV has had the opposite effect than it was intended. (Just like American economic assistance.)
During the Bush administration, when the Ugandan's first lady was asking for US assistance in the fight against AIDS, she discovered that using the word "abstinence" and hiding the successes of her husband's condom distribution program worked like some kind of magic spell over the Republicans.
Like magic, the Republican-dominated Congress authorized over $200 million for Uganda, but only for the exclusive promotion of abstinence education.
Disastrously for Uganda, US-backed abstinence education, in Ssempa's hands, became an anti-condom crusade.
Emboldened by U.S. support, Ssempa took his anti-condom crusade to Makerere University in Kampala, where senior residents of a men’s dormitory promoted safe sex by greeting incoming freshmen with a giant effigy wearing a condom. According to Helen Epstein, one day after she visited the school, Ssempa stormed on to campus, tore the condom from the effigy, grabbed a box of free condoms, and set them ablaze. “I burn these condoms in the name of Jesus!” Ssempa shouted as he prayed over the burning box.
Condom use, according to a UN study, is a critical element in a comprehensive, effective and sustainable approach to HIV prevention and treatment. It "is the single, most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections."
And yet, this basic fact has been corrupted by such fanatics as Ssempa that even the the first lady of Uganda was heard to say in an official address in Washington:
"We are being told that only a thin piece of rubber stands between us and the death of our Continent ... they (condoms) cannot become the main means of stemming the tide of AIDS."
In the name of good works, the the Bush era Congress, tainted by religious prejudices that flew in the face of both common sense and scientific evidence, rewarded Ssempa and the First lady with millions of dollars. The end result was more lives lost, more children were orphaned. 

Rick Warren's Hero
Ssempa is a hero, as far as California mega-church leader, Rick Warren is concerned. Warren is an evangelist who led the campaign of Prop 8, a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage in California. He has compared homosexuality to pedophilia, incest and bestiality. 

According to one source, Ssempa has been a guest speaker at Warren's Saddleback Church- eighth-largest church in the United States- and delivered a keynote address at another Warren-sponsored conference. How much financial aid Ssempa has received from Christian Right organization is unclear. (Much of it may be funneled through AIDS initiatives.)

One 2009 report (and an excellent follow-up report in 2012) from Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank, points out that the true instigators of the hateful legislation in Uganda, says one report, is the US Christian Right. 
 Key players in the Christian Right "stepped up their efforts to bring their style of persecuting sexual minorities- and opposing reproductive rights to the continent." 

Moreover, these groups are contributing to an atmosphere of intolerance that is resulting in, according to an Amnesty International report:
"instances of harassment, discrimination, persecution, violence and murder committed against individuals because of the sexual orientation or gender identity."
This is not the kind of cultural exports that any nation should be proud of.

Scott Lively: American Anti-Gay Provocateur?
Lively, Scott
One of those that supported Ssempa in his war on gay Ugandans was American evangelist and activist, Scott Lively.
In March 2009, Lively and his fellow Christian crusaders, toured Uganda and gave lectures in support of anti-gay legislation.
Even by American standards, the tone of the speeches were inflammatory. Thousands of Ugandans attended including police officers, teachers and national politicians. 
Lively revealed to them the fact that homosexuals were the "'agents of America’s moral decline' and that homosexuality was "destructive to individuals and to society and it should never publicly promoted." (Ugandan gays are light-years away from promoting their lifestyle.) 

According to the New York Times, Lively warned the crowds about the gay agenda and how “the gay movement is an evil institution” whose goal is “to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.” He reportedly fired up the attendees with stories about how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and discussed ways of turning gay men heterosexual.

Those lectures were, perhaps, a little too "successful." 

Lively's lively lectures led directly to the drafting of the Anti-Gay legislation adopted by the Ugandan parliament, which originally called for making homosexuality, under certain circumstances, a capital offense. And the situation for gay Ugandans was already bad enough.
When the American press got wind of the "Kill the Gay" bill and who had stoked the fires of hatred, Lively claimed - though we should be suspicious about his sincerity- that he never intended his words to be taken as literally as all that. (It was Palin's defense after the Arizona shootings.)

However, more recently, Lively unexpectedly found himself on the defensive. In March of 2012 he was sued in US Federal court by Sexual Minorities Uganda, a gay rights group. They accused Lively of inciting the persecution of gay men and
lesbians. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR),
The suit alleges that Lively’s involvement in anti-gay efforts in Uganda, including his active participation in a conspiracy to strip away fundamental rights from LGBT persons constitutes persecution. This is the first known Alien Tort Statute (ATS) case seeking accountability for persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The case, which is apparently still pending, is historic and could have greater ramifications. The Alien Tort Statue allows suits to be brought to American courts by non-U.S. citizens who claim to be victims of violations of international law (such as crimes against humanity) perpetrated outside the U.S.

Hmm, just think about where that could lead.
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No Time to Celebrate
In the US, gay and lesbians may have had reasons for celebration this year. The progress made on the same sex marriage issue - as well as the gays in the military- has been nothing short of a revolution.

According to the Washington Post, a whopping 58 % of the population now supports same-sex marriage. Utah, the seat of the Mormon religion, has become the latest state in which a Federal judge has overturned anti-gay marriage laws. (This week, New Mexico also overturned their own laws.)

In most ways, gay Americans have never had it so good and the support of the heterosexual majority has never been higher. Gay men and women live in conditions that many gays in other countries can only dream about. It is, nothing less than a vindication of a free and tolerant society. 
But there seems to be one point many gay Americans overlook. One question they ought to be asking.

Should the taxes of gay Americans be used to support nations that refuse to recognize the rights of its own gay citizens? Aren't gay (or straight, for that matter) taxpayers in some way complicit if they don't object? 
Nobody is advocating that US force nations to abandon its own culture or erase its own traditions. On the other hand, when minorities are subject to abuse simply because they exist, then neutrality is not an option. 

Yesterday's vote makes one thing very clear. Uganda is not only not making progress at improving its human rights records on this issue, it is, in fact, moving backwards. By giving economic aid to countries that punish homosexuality as a matter of policy, isn't the US government simply giving its stamp of approval for such a policy as repulsive as apartheid?