Published on 27 October 2020
Human Rights campaigners are calling for more action following the results of a major report highlighting the extent of abuse, violence, prejudice and discrimination facing the Ugandan homo/bi/trans community.
From police brutality, arrests, sexual attacks, mob violence and torture, against the SOGIESC (Sexual orientation, gender identity, expression and sex characteristics) people, global human rights organisation ReportOut, based in North East England, has released its findings after a year-long study.
Working in close partnership with seven Ugandan SOGIESC organisations to document the lives of an often hard to reach and voiceless population, 'OUT in Uganda' shines a light on their lived experiences with the intention of holding the State to their human rights obligations.
Uganda is a largely conservative Christian country where homosexual sex is punishable by life imprisonment. Campaigners say existing laws are also used to discriminate against SOGIESC people, making it harder for them to get a job or promotion, rent housing or access health and education services.
The key findings of the report survey include:
- over half (60%) of SOGIESC Ugandans have been tortured by another person(s)
- 38% of respondents report that they have been attacked or threatened with sexual violence twice in the last 12 months, often with more than one perpetrator
- three quarters of SOGIESC Ugandans state that Uganda is 'very unsafe'
- respondents often face arbitrary arrest, police brutality and when SOGIESC people are a victim of crime themselves, over half do not report it for fear of not being taken seriously by the police. This is due to a fear of homo/bi/transphobic reactions by the police
- a significant number (over 40%) of SOGIESC Ugandans live with depression and many show trauma and symptoms of PTSD. The mental health of many SOGIESC people is very poor and a quarter report that their physical health is 'getting worse'
University of Sunderland Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Chair of ReportOUT, Dr Drew Dalton, who gained ethical approval from the University in order to take part in this research, said: “With this prejudice and discrimination being so rife and uncontested by the state, it has led to SOGIESC people being deeply marginalised, isolated, brutally harmed and constructed into social pariahs. There are various forms of violence that also affect the everyday lives of many SOGIESC people which came out in the research, ranging from police brutality, arrests, sexual attacks, mob violence and even torture. These forms of violence come not only from the state, but from local communities, neighbourhoods and even family structures. There are few places of safety for many SOGIESC people.”
He added: “The right to a family, marriage, freedom from discrimination and a standard of living are all human rights enshrined within the UN Declaration of Human Rights and Uganda is a signatory of this. The Ugandan state must fulfil its obligations in this regard to allow these rights to be met and make the life of SOGIESC people in better shape than it is today.”
Lord Michael Cashman CBE, founder of Stonewall and Patron of the Pride Media Centre in Gateshead where ReportOut is headquartered, said: “This urgent and important report is evidence that discrimination and inequality against SOGIESC destroys people’s lives, their prospects, their mental health and enables them to be used by state institutions in an inhumane way.
“It is vital that we work with all partners to bring about real and lasting change for SOGIESC people ensuring that everyone is treated equally and that their human rights are respected regardless of difference.”
Amnesty UK Rainbow Network Committee, also added their voice, commenting: "ReportOut's thorough and comprehensive new report outlines the persisting and rising trends of homo/transphobia in Uganda.
“With 61% of respondents being the victims of torture — one of the report’s alarming findings — the need for the government to offer greater protection of LGBTI people could not be more urgent. This report highlights the lived experience of LGBTI Ugandans and the pressing need for the government to ensure their safety, health, financial security, and access to housing."
ReportOut makes the following recommendations:
- SOGIESC Ugandans should not be weaponised as a threat to other Ugandans, either by government officials, media outlets or any other actors.
- The right to property and housing must be vigorously enforced for SOGIESC Ugandans. Landlords must be stopped in their discrimination against SOGIESC people.
- The right to have a family.
- Employers must enact anti-discrimination policies which also protect SOGIESC people.
- Uganda must ensure that the prohibition of torture and the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is implemented and adhered too.
- Uganda should remedy the lack of police accountability and brutality in order to ensure the protection of SOGIESC people's fundamental human rights.
- SOGIESC Ugandan's should not face arbitrary arrest.
- Community and family-led harm, including mob violence, should be thoroughly investigated and dealt with by the police.
- State departments and institutions need training which enables them to handle SOGIESC people with dignity, respect and mindful of their needs as citizens;
- The mental health needs of SOGIESC Ugandans urgently need to be supported.
Dr Dalton concluded: “ReportOUT extends an invite to work together with the state and its bodies to ensure Uganda has a future in which SOGIESC people are safe and their human rights are respected.”
To read the full report click here
Bukenya Musa, 26, grew up in a family of 11 children in the suburbs of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.
At aged 10, however, Bukenya realised they were a transgender woman and has been actively a member of the SOGIESC community since 2008
Completing their Uganda Certificate of Education, Bukenya now works as the Executive Director of Kuchu Shiners Uganda, a Community based Support Organisation, they founded in 2015 to help homosexual men and transgender women sex workers in economic empowerment and capacity building.
Bukenya said: “Life as a SOGI member in Uganda is very tough and very abominable to all members. You have to pass through a lot of rejection by not only the community but also family.
“Even if you decide to be a faithful member, there is still a lot of fraud and blackmailing within fellow SOGIESC members, mostly for the young fellows, they are very often sexually abused and taken advantage of.
“I have been arrested on several occasions, tortured and harassed by regional and National Police by judging my character as a transgender woman.”
Bukenya believes the ReportOut Research is helping to highlight human rights and gender equality to the wider public, which is key in minimising
the brutal attacks and stigmatisation, providing a safer environment for the SOGIESC community.
Bukenya said: “The most important aspect of the report is promoting equality, minimizing stigmatization and making healthcare for the Key and Priority Population accessible.”
So what advice does Bukenya have for young SOGIESC people that are experiencing any hardships or abuse.
“Stick to your truth, keep healthy and speak up because there are many community based support organisations like Kuchu Shiners Uganda, to give a hand where and support them in any way possible.”
Born into a stanchly religious family with no tolerance for homosexuality, Ben knew he was gay from an early age. Witnessing the prejudice against the LGBTIQ community in his home city of Kampala, he wanted to defend those struggling whatever the cost.
Following his education, Ben, 32, became a human resource officer, and a paralegal. Through various training programmes he also became an advocate for accessing health and justice for the LGBTIQ community.
In 2013 he joined Kampus Liberty Uganda, LGBTIQ rights group, as a volunteer, human rights defender, peer educator and a paralegal.
Ben said: “As a human rights defender and activist, I have done most of my work around sexual orientation and gender identity SOGIESC issues.
“I started by educating my fellow peers in the community about HIV and giving basic counselling to those that were HIV positive, working with several organizations and health facilities that were SOGIESC friendly some of which included Kampus Liberty Uganda.
“I then got an opportunity to be trained as a paralegal, handling cases related to SOGIESC arrests. I later joined a human rights organisation called HRAPF where I worked for two years handling specifically LGBTIQ/SOGI cases and responding to violations against the LGBTIQ persons.
“I then left and settled in Kampus Liberty Uganda where I am the Director, but still work with HRAPF as a partner to continue handling the cases and human rights violations alongside HIV programming among the LGBTIQ communities in Uganda.”
Ben says he is motivated to help the LGBTIQ community no matter what the cost.
“Just imagine a situation where a human being is arrested, beaten up, raped by up to four inmates in a cell, later rejected by your own family, then evicted by your landlord, expelled from school, fired from your job. You get published in the newspapers and social media and at the end of the day you end up with nothing - no housing, no job, no education, no money to survive and sometimes no friends - all in the name of being a SOGIESC.
He added: “Sometimes you would intervene in a case and get someone released, only to tell you that they don’t have anywhere to go, nowhere to sleep, no food to eat or even transport to get them away from the court or police station. You try to help one and the next day you get another one and then the number grows.
“The government is supposed to help every citizen regardless, but because people are biased, they forget their responsibilities and duties to the citizens and instead victimize them.”
Ben believes the ReportOut research is important to help get the information out.
“Whatever we do today may not necessarily benefit us individually, but it surely creates a safe-haven for the future generation to build on.
“I also know that nothing comes that easy, you just have to insist and persist. Let ReportOut act as our mouthpiece from the outside because then, no one can have control over you like they would have over us here.”
And what is his advice to any young SOGIESC person who maybe experiencing abuse/ hardship?
“My advice is simple; always share the abuse and violation with someone you trust, and you can always request to remain anonymous. Things may not necessarily end up the way you want but at least something will be done to end the abuse.”