Uganda: International Human Rights Group Demands Accountability from U.S. HIV/AIDS Fund

For Immediate Release, October 10, 2007
Contact: Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC Communications Coordinator, 212-430-6016

(New York, Monday October 10, 2007) - The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has uncovered evidence that the U.S. government has funded groups in Uganda that actively promote discrimination against lesbians and gay men. In a letter to U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul, IGLHRC has criticized funding the groups and has asked for assurances that U.S. government funds are not being used to support homophobic organizations anywhere in the world.

IGLHRC’s investigation followed a series of distressing events in Uganda. At an August 16 press conference, Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), a coalition of LGBT groups, launched Let us Live in Peace Campaign, calling for understanding and respect of sexual minorities. SMUG’s campaign was met with an increase in hate speech by religious groups. The primary instigator of the backlash was Pastor Martin Ssempa, leader of the Makerere University Community Church and spokesman for the Interfaith Family Culture Coalition Against Homosexuality in Uganda. Ssempa organized an August 21 rally in Kampala, the country’s largest city, at which more than one hundred demonstrators, including several government officials, demanded official action against LGBT people. Ssempa has called homosexual conduct, "a criminal act against the laws of nature," and has said that, "there should be no rights granted to homosexuals in this country."

According to the U.S. Embassy in Uganda’s website, Makerere University Community Church received a grant under a program designed to provide funds for AIDS prevention, treatment and care programs in Africa. Mr. Ssempa and his coalition, which includes Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, and Evangelicals, have threatened the safety of Ugandan LGBT rights activists by posting their names, photos and addresses on a website (http://kobsrugby.com/demo/). With support from conservative organizations such as Family Watch International in the United States, Ssempa has launched attacks not only on homosexuals but on Uganda’s women’s rights and HIV activists as well.

"The U.S. government’s funding is meant to alleviate suffering and support effective AIDS initiatives in Africa, not to further blame and stigmatize already marginalized groups," said IGLHRC Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick. IGLHRC provided Ambassador Dybul with evidence of grants made by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Makerere University Community Church.

Furthermore, IGLHRC found that the Uganda Muslim Tabliqh Women’s Desk has also received a grant under the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to implement HIV programs in Masaka District. Recently, Muslim Tabliqh youth announced a plan to form an 'Anti-Gay Squad' to fight homosexuality in Uganda. On 28 August 2007, Sheikh Multah Bukenya, a senior cleric in the Tabliqh Organization, was quoted during prayers at Noor Mosque in Kampala as saying that his followers are "ready to act swiftly and form this squad that will wipe out all abnormal practices like homosexuality in our society."

PEPFAR is a $15 billion Bush administration fund to fight AIDS in Africa. According to IGLHRC’s 2007 report, "Off the Map: How HIV/AIDS Programming is Failing Same-Sex Practicing People in Africa," less than U.S. $1 million targets HIV programs for men who have sex with men in Africa, despite strong evidence that HIV has a disproportionate impact on LGBT communities throughout the continent. According to IGLHRC, the complicated PEPFAR sub-granting process lacks transparency and makes it difficult to track the funding.

"What we do know, is that few PEPFAR dollars are being used to fight HIV among gay men in Africa," said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC Senior Specialist for Africa. "Not only have African men who have sex with men been largely ignored with regard to HIV prevention services, but avowedly homophobic organizations are receiving funding for programs that will only further stigmatize homosexuality. This has to stop."

IGLHRC has called for increased transparency in the distribution of U.S. government HIV/AIDS funding internationally and a commitment by U.S. administrators that organizations espousing hate speech will not be funded

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and is punishable by between 14 years and life imprisonment. Last year, the Ugandan Parliament passed a constitutional amendment making same-sex marriages illegal.

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The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is a leading human rights organization solely devoted to improving the rights of people around the world who are targeted for imprisonment, abuse or death because of their sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS status. IGLHRC addresses human rights violations by partnering with and supporting activists in countries around the world, monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, engaging offending governments, and educating international human rights officials. A non-profit, non-governmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, with offices in San Francisco, Johannesburg, and Buenos Aires. Visit http://www.iglhrc.org for more information