UNWANTED WITNESS-UGANDA

Gays in Kenya under their umbrella body National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission swung into action when they took to the streets of Nairobi, the Country’s Capital, to protest the stringent Anti-homosexuality law which Ugandan Parliament passed late last year.

The gays and lesbians’ protest was aimed at pressuring the Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni not to assent to the law which would criminalize and strengthen the penalties against the gays and lesbians on conviction by a competent Court.

Dressed in a rainbow wig and masks, they joined a global effort to protest an anti-homosexuality law that is being discussed by the ruling NRM legislators who are attending a week-long retreat at National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi with the aim of giving the President who is the only savior the gay community in Uganda has left with to be hanged a green light to sign it or block him.

A last December’s law prescribes a seven-year jail term for a person who conducts homosexuality and it goes to define other sets of crimes and their sentences.

Eric Gitari, the executive director of Kenya’s umbrella that brings together all gay and lesbian in the Country on top of advocating their rights led the protest on account that the legislation passed by the Ugandan Parliament has impacts on the Human rights, not only in Uganda, but also in the East African region.

He also said that some the minorities, have already fled to Kenya, seeking asylum in some camps, fearing for their lives.

In Kenya, demonstrators held signs and chanted slogans outside Uganda’s high commission on Monday, hoping that their message would reach Museveni.

“President Museveni, from the letter he sent, he sounds like a man who wants to be persuaded by science and research,” Gitari said. “I’d want to persuade him with scientific evidence that in 1992 the World Health Organization struck homosexuality from the list of diseases. He should know that homosexuals are not sick people.”

Museveni has opposed the law as harsh, but gay activists say his other recent thoughts on the matter that gay people are often “abnormal” people who should be “rehabilitated” fuel discrimination against gays in a country where homosexuality is already illegal.

The bill is popular with lawmakers and Christian clerics who say it is needed to deter western homosexuals from “recruiting” in Uganda.

Uganda’s constitution gives the president 30 days to sign a bill or return it to parliament for amendments.

But some bills have stayed with Museveni for months even years apparently because the “law is silent” about what happens when the president is slow to make a decision, said a human rights lawyer  Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, who has represented gay Ugandans in court.

If the bill is returned to lawmakers, Rwakafuuzi said, they could still pass it into law with a two-thirds majority vote. But that can only happen when Museveni officially returns the bill to the speaker of parliament.

“Museveni can keep the bill for a long time,” said Rwakafuuzi, who predicted upcoming court cases over the legislation.

Meanwhile, the Ugandan-related protests come as gay activists focus on many issues around the globe.

 A new law in Nigeria last month increased penalties against gays; Russia has faced questions in the run-up to the Olympics about gay discrimination; and a US university football player on Sunday announced he is gay, setting up the possibility of the first openly gay pro football player.

Rights activists around the world were holding street marches on Monday “in solidarity” with Uganda’s homosexuals, said Pepe Julian Onziema, a gay leader in Uganda who said at least 15 homosexual people had fled Uganda since the bill was passed out of fear for their safety.

Gays and lesbians face severe discrimination in many African countries.

The American Jewish World Service, a US-based group, also promoted the global protest against the Ugandan legislation. The group, which supports groups working to advance human rights of vulnerable and marginalized communities, sent a letter to Museveni from 400 rabbis asking that the legislation not be signed.

“Jews were marginalized for centuries and the history of the Europe’s Jews during the 20th century reminds us that stripping away the rights of minorities by states is often a prelude to the worst kind of treatment,” Stuart Schear, a spokesman for the group, said by e-mail.

deo@unwantedwitness.or.ug

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