East African gays and lesbians face the most severe harassment in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, according to the U.S. State Department’s newly released report on human rights.
Below is what the report had to say about the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in each of those countries.
This post is the second in a series about the state department’s account of some of the 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal.
Eritrea — The law in Eritrea criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity. Individuals continued to be detained for alleged consensual same-sex sexual activity.
During the year there were unconfirmed reports that the government carried out periodic roundups of individuals considered gay or lesbian. Gay men and lesbians faced severe societal discrimination. The government repeatedly accused foreign governments of promoting homosexuality to undermine the government. There were reports that known gay men and lesbians in the armed forces were subjected to severe abuse. There were no known lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender organizations in the country.
Ethiopia — Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by imprisonment under the law in Ethiopia. There were some reports of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals; however, reporting was limited due to fears of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. Persons did not identify themselves as LGBT persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity.
In early December, Christian and Muslim religious leaders attempted to derail a seminar on sexual health that was targeted at men who have sex with men. The government intervened, and the seminar went ahead, although at a different location.
The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported that the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, the majority of whom were male, requested assistance in changing their behavior to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts
Kenya — The penal code in Kenya criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which is interpreted to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity and specifies a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. A separate statute specifically criminalizes sex between men and specifies a maximum penalty of 21 years’ imprisonment. Police detained persons under these laws, particularly suspected sex workers, but released them shortly afterward. There were no reported prosecutions of individuals for same-sex sexual activity during the year.
LGBT advocacy organizations, such as the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), were permitted to register and conduct activities. However, societal discrimination based on sexual orientation was widespread and resulted in loss of employment and educational opportunities. Violence against the LGBT community also occurred, particularly in rural areas and among refugees. NGO groups reported that police intervened to stop attacks but were not generally sympathetic to LGBT individuals or concerns.
During the year an LGBT group in Mombasa relocated its offices to a more secure location and advised its members to maintain a low profile when coming to the group’s office to avoid attack.
According to the 2011 Annual Report of the Observatory, in February 2010 religious leaders in Mtwapa issued antigay statements and demanded the closure of the Kenya Medical Research Institute, which conducts research and provides treatment to persons with HIV/AIDS. Crowds subsequently attacked the center and beat one of its volunteers. Other volunteers were taken into police protective custody. All were released without charge, but none of the attackers was arrested.
On two occasions in 2010, Denis Karimi Nzioka, GALCK’s public relations officer and a writer on LGBT issues, was forced to move from his home by neighbors who said they knew he was gay. Nzioka was also targeted by unknown persons on the streets who threatened him with violence or death.
Unlike in previous years, no anti-LGBT publicity campaigns were conducted; however, sensational reporting often inflamed societal prejudices.
Uganda — LGBT persons faced discrimination and legal restrictions in Uganda. It is illegal to engage in homosexual acts, based on a law from the colonial era that criminalizes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and provides a penalty up to life imprisonment. While no persons were convicted under the law, the government arrested persons for related offenses. For example, in July police arrested an individual for “attempting” to engage in homosexual activities. On July 15, a court in Entebbe charged him with “indecent practices” and released him on bail. Hearing of the case was pending at year’s end.
LGBT persons were subject to societal harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and threats to their well-being and were denied access to health services. Discriminatory practices also prevented local LBGT NGOs from registering with the NGO Board and obtaining official NGO status (see section 2.b.).
On January 3, the High Court ruled that an obscure local tabloid had violated three LGBT persons’ constitutional rights to privacy and human dignity in 2010 by publishing their pictures, identities, and addresses under the headline “Hang Them.” This was the second High Court ruling upholding the rights of LGBT individuals. In 2008 the High Court affirmed LGBT individuals’ constitutional right to human dignity, protection from inhuman treatment, and privacy in Victor Juliet Mukasa and Yvonne Oyo v. Attorney General.
On January 26, LGBT activist David Kato, who had successfully sued the local tabloid discussed above for the 2010 publication of his picture under the headline “Hang Them,” was bludgeoned to death at his home outside Kampala. On February 2, police arrested Sidney Enock Nsubuga for Kato’s murder. On November 9, Nsubuga pled guilty and was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment.
On May 6, parliament’s Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Committee held hearings on a draft “antihomosexuality” bill submitted to parliament in September 2009 by parliamentarian David Bahati. The draft legislation sought to impose punishments ranging from imprisonment to death for individuals twice convicted of “homosexuality” or “related offenses, ” including “aiding and abetting homosexuality,” “conspiracy to engage in homosexuality’, the “promotion of homosexuality, ” or “failure to disclose the offens” of homosexuality” to authorities within 24 hours. The committee heard testimony from local human rights and LGBT activists, the UHRC, the Uganda Prison Service, and “antihomosexuality” proponents. The draft bill expired when parliament adjourned on May 13. On October 25, the new parliament voted to “save and retain” two dozen expired bills from the previous session, including the draft “antihomosexuality” bill but took no further action. During the year several senior government officials stated they did not support the bill, and in 2010 the UHRC determined that the bill violates the constitution and international law.
On October 3, the Constitutional Court heard oral arguments on a 2009 petition filed by a local human rights and LGBT activists challenging the constitutionality of Section 15(6)(d) of the Equal Opportunities Commission Act. Section 15(6)(d) prevents the Equal Opportunities Commission from investigating “any matter involving behavior which is considered to be (i) immoral and socially harmful, or (ii) unacceptable by the majority of the cultural and social communities in Uganda.” The petitioner argued that this clause is discriminatory and violates the constitutional rights of minority populations. A decision was pending at year’s end.