AFRICANGLOBE – Enforcement of Uganda’s anti-sodomy law could run into hiccups after the country made a commitment to Western donors that it will give protection to homosexuals who come under threat from the public, and ensure that they get treatment under the national HIV prevention strategy without discrimination.
The assurances form part of a broad compromise that Uganda and its donors reached in meetings last week as both parties moved to pull away from the acrimony that followed Uganda’s passing of a law that criminalises homosexuality and prescribes life imprisonment for those found guilty of the act, outlaws any promotion of homosexuality and requires people to report homosexuals.
It also represents a major climb-down by Ugandan authorities in the face of a partial funding freeze by key western donors.
The US, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and the World Bank have already implemented partial aid cuts as punishment for Uganda asserting its democratic right and sovereignty.
President Museveni, however, assented to it on February 24, triggering a standoff that put at risk some $2 billion in aid annually to the country, mostly in money meant for specific projects.
Now, according to sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government, while defending the spirit of the law, has told the donors that a private unit at Mulago National Referral Hospital was available for gay people to receive medical treatment.
It is believed the meetings over the issue were the result of the entangled nature of Uganda’s relationship with Western countries that have used the country as a pedestal from which to pursue their security agenda in the region.
Equally, it is accepted that aid cuts would hurt not the ruling elite but ordinary Ugandans, who despite the threats have rallied around their leaders over the issue.
The search for common ground on the issue extended to Brussels where on the sidelines of the EU-Africa summit this week, President Museveni, his Foreign Affairs minister and Uganda’s head of mission to Brussels met with several EU officials including the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherin Ashton.
Analysts argue that given the popularity of President Museveni’s action, donor countries risked alienation from the Ugandan public if they pursued further retaliation.
Anti-sodomy sentiments among Ugandans also leaves them exposed to the risk of violence and mob justice. While the new agreement promises medical care to homosexuals and protection from violence, they are still liable to prosecution under the new law.
In the meetings that preceded the EU-AU summit, the parties, who first accused each other of escalating the issue in the public domain, agreed to refrain from making statements that could hurt relations between the parties.
The donors had demanded that the government of Uganda tones down on its threats of prosecuting homosexuals and expressed dismay over recent pronouncements by President Museveni that Uganda, which enjoys two rainy seasons, could do without aid.
Ugandan ministers led by the Foreign Affairs’ Sam Kuteesa, however, said that the country’s blunt response was provoked by arrogant statements and threats made by western regimes.
Senior officials who attended the different meetings said while the EU head of delegation and diplomats from some European countries maintained a calm composure during the meetings, the US representative came across as aggressive, and less inclined to compromise.
While Uganda agreed in the meeting to provide security for homosexuals people against mob justice, Internal Affairs minister Gen Aronda Nyakairima reportedly challenged the diplomats to give a single example of a person who had been attacked by Ugandans for professing to be homosexual.
The ministers, however, maintained that those found guilty will be prosecuted.
“Kutesa questioned the EU relationship with other African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries that had instituted anti-sodomy legislation in their statute books,” said an official who attended the meeting.
Described by officials as “candid discussions,” the different meetings held since the enactment of the law, however, failed to agree on the belief by donors that the right to gayism is a universal right.
“We agreed to disagree on the claim…. There is no treaty anywhere which states so. Even the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not say so,” Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary James Mugume later told reporters.
The European Union on the other hand, who described their meeting with government officials as a “political dialogue” maintain that “gay rights” are universal rights.
“While the EU has always tried to be constructive and open to dialogue on this issue, the EU position on human rights is very clear. Human rights are universal — as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said the EU in a statement emailed to media houses.
But appearing on local television later, head of EU delegation to Uganda Kristian Schmidt said tying aid to scrapping the law would be blackmail and that was not the EU’s position. He went on to point out that only three of the EU’s 28 member states had threatened or cut aid to Uganda.
If the latest stand by Mr Schmidt and retracting of an earlier statement by the US is anything to go by, then Uganda might not after all feel the pinch of aid cuts.
While the US officials in Kampala gave no assurances in meetings with government officials that they would not cut aid further, Schmidt was categorical that it would not cut aid to Uganda.
US spokeswoman Jen Psaki clarified earlier statements suggesting the US was withholding a small amount of funding related to the salaries of 18 Ugandan health officials.
“This was an ongoing process before the signing of the anti-sodomy Bill,” she told reporters.
Asked whether any US aid to Uganda has been cut, Ms Psaki said that the Obama administration continues to take “a thoughtful, deliberate look at next steps in light of the enactment of the law.”
Her comments indicate that the US has yet to take punitive actions of the sort announced by the World Bank and a few European countries, despite President Obama’s warning in February that the anti-deviance law will “complicate” Washington’s relations with Kampala.
Mr Schmidt pledged in a meeting with Kuteesa on March 28 to prevail over diplomats from European countries to refrain from unilateral action to cut aid to Uganda.
“In that meeting, the head of delegation informed the minister that under the EU standing orders, unilateral declarations by EU member states are discouraged,” said Fred Opolot, Foreign Affairs ministry spokesperson. “It is expected that going forward, the outcome of these dialogues will mutually agree to address concerns raised as a result of the enactment of this Law.”
Commenting on the developments, Sexual Minority Uganda (SMUG) legal officer Douglas Mawadri, said that pressures from the donor community had forced government to acknowledge “some of gay rights” though the law still remained in place and threats against gay persons and stigma is on the increase.
As far as security is concerned, many are not safe; police have on many occasions stood and watched gay persons evicted from their homes,” claimed Mawadri. “At Mulago, there is a private clinic that is giving free medical services.”
Records at SMUG, which advocates the protection and rights of homosexuals and transgender people, indicate that on average, two cases of harassment are reported weekly. Most relate to eviction by landlords for fear of the law. Police, however, said they are yet to register a case of harassment of a homosexual person.
Sections of the Anti-Homosexuality Act require landlords to report gay activities in their premises.
By: Barnaba Among