NEWS

Lesbian couple takes the bull by the horns after attack

Story by NATION Correspondents, Kampala
Publication Date: 7/28/2007  

Dr Tamale, Dean Makerere University Law School: “This is not really a
case challenging the legality of homosexuality.”

Yvonne Ooyo, a Kenyan living in Uganda, and her female partner
Victor Mukasa are distressed. The two women were living happily
together in a Ugandan town when their peace was shattered by a police
raid two years ago. Since then, they say their lives have changed
adversely.  

Ms Ooyo, 24, a self-confessed lesbian and Ms Mukasa, a gay rights
activist, have sued Ugandan authorities in a landmark case following
the raid.

They have taken the government to court for trespassing, theft of
property, illegal arrest and inhuman and degrading treatment.  

The case has been in court since December 2006 and a verdict is
expected when hearing resumes next month.  

“We want people to see that what we suffer is similar to other
oppressed groups,” says Ms Mukasa, who is the chairperson of Sexual
Minorities Uganda (SMU), a coalition of three gay rights advocacy
organisations.  

Their case would be straight forward were it not for the fact that
homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. In fact, this is the first case targeting
legal rights of homosexuals to be heard publicly in Uganda and much of
Africa. Except for South Africa, most of the continent frowns upon
homosexuality, both legally and socially.  

The two say that on July 20, 2005, a government official broke into their
home, seized property and detained Ms Ooyo without a warrant.  

Mr John Lubega, the Local Council 1 chairman of Kireka Kamuli zone
allegedly raided the home which belongs to Ms Mukasa without a
warrant. Ms Mukasa was reportedly away on the material night and had
left Ms Ooyo, a student at Makerere University, in the house.  

During the raid, police confiscated materials they described as
advocating gay rights and arrested Ms Ooyo for “idle and disorderly”
conduct. She was locked up for several hours and she alleges the
officers sexually harassed her.  

Local councils in Uganda are mandated to collect intelligence but are
not part of the police force.

Gay rights  

“They kept teasing me about whether I am a girl or a boy,” she
recounts, adding the police did not believe her when she told them she
was a female.  

They instead asked her to undress in front of an officer for a ‘thorough
check’ during which the woman allegedly felt her private parts and
pressed her breasts, ostensibly to confirm her gender.  

“I know she did this because she felt that since I’m a homosexual, I did
not deserve any dignified treatment,” claims Ms Ooyo.

In the late 1990s, President Yoweri Museveni instructed police to arrest
gay people on sight.  

“I have told the CID (Criminal Investigations Department) to look for
homosexuals, lock them up and charge them,” he said while opening a
reproductive health conference in Kampala.  

The statement provoked diplomatic protests from, among others, the
American state department.  

After the raid, both complainants claim they lived in fear of more
attacks. Amnesty International had to step in and help Ms Mukasa to
flee to South Africa. She only returned to Uganda for the first of three
court sessions on the case. The final hearing next month will determine
whether she enjoys the same rights as her country men despite her
sexual preferences.  

Diplomatic protests  

“We are not asking for the right to marry, we are asking for the same
rights that are guaranteed to all Ugandan citizens, even prisoners. My
homosexuality does not deprive me of my citizenship of Uganda. I am
only exercising my constitutional rights,” Ms Mukasa says.  

Dr Nsaba Buturo, the Ugandan minister for Ethics and Integrity,
confirmed that the couple’s move to seek affirmation of their
constitutional rights by a court of law is no easy feat.  

He said that the plaintiffs “suffered under the false notion that
homosexuality can be a human rights issue” and cautioned that “next
time, they will say bestiality should be a human right.”  

Due process  

Yet, Uganda is a signatory to the International Covenant of Civil and
Political Rights, which demands the universal protection of civil and
political rights for oppressed groups regardless of political affiliation,
race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  

However, activists say this has had no apparent effect on the way
homosexuals are regarded.  

But Dr Sylvia Tamale, Dean of the Makerere University Law School,
sees things differently.  

“This is not really a case challenging the legality of homosexuality. It is
actually about rights to privacy and property,” she says.  

The case has been filed as a violation of articles contained in Chapter
4 of the Uganda Constitution which covers the protection of
fundamental rights including the right to privacy, property, protection
from inhuman and degrading treatment and due process under the
law.  

But these rights, by themselves, are a grey area in Ugandan law. Oscar
Kihika, the President of the Uganda Law Society, says there is a conflict
between the country’s highly progressive constitutional law and residual
laws from the British colonial rule and Idi Amin’s rein.  

“Technically, police are allowed to search your home and detain you for
questioning without a warrant at any time if they so much as suspect
you are breaking the law,” says Mr Kihika, adding: “This was not the
case in the 1970s but Idi Amin amended many laws to give police
broader powers.”

Right information  

Since homosexuality is illegal, suspicion alone gives sufficient
justification for a police search and ‘call for questioning.’  

However, Mr Kihika points out that removing items from a residence
without a warrant is prohibited. In Ms Oyoo and Ms Mukasa’s case, that
the raid was carried out by an LC1 Chairman, not the police, gives their
complaint even more weight.

Gay rights activists like Sexual Minorities Uganda [SMU] claim the
atmosphere in Uganda is constantly hostile to them.  

Some religious leaders like born-again
Pastor Martin Sempa of the
Makerere Community Church
advocate a path of ‘redemption’ rather
than court trials.  

“I know many people in my congregation who were lesbian but have
turned around and are living a straight life now,” he says,  

“Victor [Mukasa] will experience redemption if she is given the right
treatment and information” he adds.  

Recently after a split in the Anglican church of America over gay rights,
Ugandan churches stepped up to provide pastoral assistance to
several dioceses which were against homosexuality.  

In October 2006, a local newspaper published a list of names of
suspected gays and lesbians. The gay rights group says several
people whose names appeared on the list lost jobs and were
mistreated by their families.  

Conservative masses  

According to SMU, gays and lesbians in Uganda are constantly
harassed by police, taxi drivers and the public. Some claim that they
have been humiliated at school assemblies, forced to undress in
church to “remove male spirits” or raped to “prove” that they are
women.  

The group says most of these acts go unreported because gay people
fear they will end up in jail.

“This is not just a case of one lesbian woman seeking justice. It is a
case of every gay person in this country whose rights have been
violated in one way or another,” says Ms Mukasa.  

Ruling on the case by Uganda’s Constitutional court next month could
set a precedent for sub-Saharan Africa’s conservative masses.
Gay and Christian in
KENYA, UGANDA,
TANZANIA, RWANDA
AND BURUNDI
____________________________________________
Articals:  NEWS
Above photes:

Top Picture
The NTV tower. Nairobi,
Kenya

Bottom Picture
Steve at the lap top

Nairobi, Kenya
July, 2007
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