Pepe Julian Onziemam, Programme Coordinator for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a coalition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) human rights organisations in Uganda, speaks to CIVICUS about the challenges of working in a hostile environment.
Q. Tell us about your work as an LGBTI activist
A. My work and that of the organisations - advocating for gay and lesbian people - which I have been involved with since 2004, has considerable challenges. Legislation that criminalises same-sex activities, means that we don't have space for advocacy work and most of what we do has to be done underground so people do not have to show their faces. We are forced to meet in private and have no access to legal aid. To issue statements we must create alliances with fellow civil society groups to deliver our message within Uganda. This is incredibly isolating and makes our work even more difficult. Our long-term goal is to decriminalise homosexuality.
In 2009, a draconian anti-homosexuality bill was introduced in the Uganda Parliament by MP David Bahati. There has been mixed reaction to the bill and the process has been drawn out because of the pressure exerted by religious leaders.
(CIVICUS has analysed the bill which, through its wide ambit, seeks to criminalise the work of civil society organisations promoting the rights of LGBTI persons through cancellation of their registration and punishment of the head of the organisation with seven years imprisonment. Other repugnant provisions of the bill include punishment by death for HIV infected persons if they have sexual relations with a person of the same gender; life imprisonment for attempting to contract a marriage with a person of the same gender; extradition to Uganda of citizens or permanent residents if they have sexual relations with a person of the same gender; and enhanced punishment of life imprisonment for sexual relations between people of the same gender. http://civicus.org/media-centre/press-releases/archieve/474--civicus-condemns-the-ugandan-anti-homosexuality-bill )