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04/19/2007


Cutting Foreign Aid Won't Defeat Anti-Gay Laws in Africa and Latin America

BY ARI SHAW AND MAURICIO ALBARRACÍN / GlobalPost

Commentary: Human rights courts and commissions are the best tools to diminish violence and strengthen LGBT rights.

MuseveniBOGOTA — Will cuts to foreign aid as a response to anti-gay laws help the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Africa? The conventional wisdom seems to say “yes.”

Recent legislation in Uganda, which imposes a life sentence for “aggravated homosexuality” and criminalizes any promotion of homosexuality, has been rightly condemned as a violation of the fundamental equality and dignity of LGBT people.

In response, a number of Western countries, including Norway, Denmark and Sweden, have withdrawn foreign assistance, and the World Bank froze a $90 million loan to Uganda.

These actions, while understandable, are misguided.

Condemnation by foreign governments, including the United States, is an important symbolic measure and can help delegitimize anti-gay laws. Yet cuts in foreign assistance can have the unintended effect of emboldening homophobic rhetoric that links aid and LGBT rights to neocolonial intervention.

This would further endanger the lives of LGBT citizens in these countries.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act has received broad support among Ugandans. Its author has said that any costs in foreign aid are “worth it.”
 
RedpepperMeanwhile, activists report an increase in arrests and harassment of LGBT people, and a similar bill in Nigeria has led to a rash of mob violence against gays and lesbians.

Foreign governments and international donors seeking to help should, instead, increase financial and technical support for African LGBT rights organizations and human rights institutions.

LGBT activists in many African states face highly restrictive and dangerous conditions that limit their ability advocate for reforms. In many cases, these laws not only discriminate against LGBT individuals but also criminalize or severely restrict public dissent and association around LGBT issues.

The burgeoning African system of human rights courts and commissions should be strengthened to provide an important and necessary tool for enhancing LGBT rights and activism in the region.

The experience of LGBT rights activism in another developing region — Latin America — offers insight into the roles regional human rights bodies can play.

In the past several years, advances in gay rights in Latin America have outpaced those in the United States and some European nations. Argentina and Uruguay, for instance, have full marriage equality, while Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia offer some form of legal protection for same-sex couples and families.

Violence and inequality persist, but in many national debates around LGBT rights, the Inter-American human rights system has been an important resource for gay rights activists.

IachrIndividuals and nongovernmental organizations can appeal directly to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which investigates and offers recommendations to remedy cases of human rights abuse.

Consequently, the quasi-judicial commission has been an active forum for documenting and publicizing human rights abuses.

In the past five years, the commission has held 17 public hearings related to gay rights, same-sex unions, and homophobic violence in the Americas.

Since February 2012, it has issued 31 news releases drawing national and international media attention to the plight of LGBT communities in member countries and across the region.

The commission has also visited countries to highlight the negative conditions for LGBT people there. And, as of February 1, the commission has a permanent office with a mandate to monitor human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights only hears cases referred by the commission or from petitions by national governments, but its rulings are legally binding.

Most notably, in a 2012 case against Chile, the court ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected categories under the American Convention on Human Rights. As a result, no domestic laws may be promulgated that restrict individual rights on these grounds.

The ruling has not only shaped the ongoing debate in Chile around marriage equality and same-sex families, but has also set binding precedent for national judges in member states facing same-sex marriage litigation.

The African regional human rights system might play a similar role in augmenting the work of LBGT rights activists in the region. Following the lead of its Inter-American organization, the African Commission could take a more active role as a public forum to highlight violence against LGBT people and publicly shame governments that fail to protect them.

Moreover, the commission could coordinate more closely with the tapestry of sub-regional African courts, such as the East African Court of Justice, that are increasingly asserting their jurisdiction to hear cases involving human rights violations.

To be sure, regional human rights systems are no panacea for ending human rights abuses against LGBT people. The process can be frustratingly slow, often taking years to reach a ruling.

These institutions lack strong enforcement powers, and some leaders openly defy their judgments. The African system in particular has faced charges of inefficiency, while the nascent African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has struggled to become fully operational.

Regional human rights institutions can provide crucial publicity, legitimacy and legal precedent for LGBT rights activists in the face of stifling national laws.

A strengthened African regional human rights system can bypass critiques of foreign intervention and create external pressure on national governments that bolsters the work of local activists. The best lesson from LGBT activism in the Inter-American system is that the amplified voices of citizens are often the most persuasive.

Ari Shaw is currently a Fulbright Scholar in Colombia researching the impact of international law on LGBT activism. Mauricio Albarracín is a lawyer with Colombia Diversa, a national LGBT rights organization based in Bogotá.


Report: First Arrests In Uganda Under Anti-Gay Law

Reports have surfaced that two men have been arrested under Uganda's new anti-gay law signed into law last month. The men were detained at a hotel in the town of Jinja earlier this week.

Uganda2According to Trending Newsroom, a hotel employee reported them to police:

Two men were nabbed in a Kampala hotel after a lodging attendant caught them having sex and subsequently informed the police. According to reports, sexual moans were heard about 20 minutes after the men had checked into the room they had booked in the hotel. Shortly after being informed, the police arrived at the scene, handcuffed the two men and took them away.

Suspected gay citizens have also apparently been ousted from their homes. The New Civil Rights Movement reports on at least two instances where landlords have issued eviction notices to tenants. One letter reads:

UgandaI am writing to inform you that you have been evicted from the house you live in because of the stories [about your gay lifestyle] that appeared on Bukedde Television and in the print media. We can no longer live with someone like you. Therefore, vacate the premises before the 5th of May 2014

Meanwhile, gay rights activists and politicians have challenged the revolting law in the country's courts:

The group called Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law are calling on the court to rule that the new law violates Uganda’s constitution, because it encourages discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan lawyer who helped to draft the petition, said the group are asking judges to issue an interim order which stops police officer from implementing the laws.


Kenya May Be Uniquely Ripe for Advances in Gay Rights

Protest_kenya
Gay rights activists in Kenya protest Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill.

BY JACOB KUSHNER / GlobalPost

An increasingly supportive church and other signs suggest Kenya may be departing from its neighbors in the region by accepting homosexuality.

NAIROBI, Kenya — For years, homosexuality was as unlawful in Kenya as it was in neighboring Uganda or in Nigeria — countries where anti-gay sentiment is growing.

Kenya’s penal code prescribes up to 14 years in prison for men who commit “acts of gross indecency” with other men or for any person who acts “against the order of nature.” It’s the same maximum sentence that existed in Nigeria, and seven years greater than what was until recently the maximum punishment in Uganda.

Uganda’s parliament passed a law making “aggravated homosexuality” a crime punishable by life imprisonment. The Ugandan president said on Friday that he plans to sign the bill. President Obama on Sunday condemned the move, and warned “such discrimination could harm its relationship with the United States.”

In January, Nigeria’s president signed a law that also orders that homosexuals be imprisoned for life and even makes gatherings of homosexuals illegal, including those held by advocacy or rights organizations. The law has already led to numerous arrests.

But in Kenya no such attempt has been made to reduce legal protections for gays, and many Kenyans seem increasingly willing to accept homosexuality as a fact of life, or to move beyond political posturing over the subject altogether.

WainainaA public discussion of homosexuality surfaced here last month following a Twitter argument between an anti-gay publisher of a prominent law and business journal and a Nairobi professor who defends gay rights. In response to the debate, renowned Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina made headlines when he came out publicly by publishing a short story entitled, "I am a homosexual, mum."

“In Nairobi, Binyavanga is walking around very freely and casually, almost like a hero,” said Tom Odhiambo, a Professor of Literature at the University of Nairobi and editor of a new collection of stories by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Kenyans. “He could not do that in Lagos (Nigeria).”

Last week, a group of gay rights activists released a new book, which brings accounts by gay Kenyans into the public sphere, on the premise that the time is now opportune for Kenyan society to accept homosexuality. Some 250 people crowded into a German cultural institute in Nairobi to launch Invisible: Stories from Kenya’s Queer Community.

Invisible“What this book means for me as a gay Kenyan man is that it brings out the invisible,” said one man who attended the book launch. “I can talk about being a gay man, but there are people who cannot talk about their gayness because they can face serious challenges for that.”

Kevin Mwachiro, the journalist and gay rights activist who edited the book, said the success of a gay film festival held here in 2011 and a high turnout at the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, where homosexuality was discussed, “showed that the space was ripe” for such a book.

“We still have a bloated human rights record, and we still do not treat our women very well. But that five, six percent GDP growth is nothing if people still don’t have the freedom to be themselves,” “Mwachiro said. “Africa is changing. Africa is ripe.”

A standout on a continent that widely views homosexuality as ‘un-African

Africa and the Middle East remain the world’s most LGBT-adverse regions, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center.

Though rarely enforced, the legal punishment for acts of homosexuality in three African countries is death. Homosexuality remains a crime in 38 African nations and “Homophobic attacks and harassment across sub-Saharan Africa are becoming more visible,” according to a report last year by Amnesty International.

The most prominent of these attacks occurred in 2010 in Uganda, which borders Kenya to the west. Two documentary films recently captured how Evangelical Christians from the United States and elsewhere are inspiring anti-gay fervor in Uganda.

“The evangelicals from the West know that that is their window, and they’re using that to promote their anti-homosexual agenda,” said Reverend John Makokha, director of a Kenyan gay rights alliance.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Kenya May Be Uniquely Ripe for Advances in Gay Rights" »


Ugandan 'Scientists' Say Homosexuality Caused By Recruitment, Adventurism

All that’s needed to turn Uganda’s odious “Kill the Gays” bill into law is President Yoweri Museveni’s signature. However, he has made good on his promise to study the law before signing it.

The bill — which was passed by parliament in December — penalizes anyone who aids or abets a known homosexual and punishes homosexuality with life imprisonment. It has LGBT Ugandans afraid for their lives.

MuseveniOne of the scientists Museveni hired for the study, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, concluded that “recruiters and promoters (of homosexuality) should be dealt with accordingly” and that “homosexuality [starts] as a result of adventurism," (that is, the willingness to try risky actions, tactics, or attitudes).

Museveni is rabidly homophobic: he considers homosexuality a curable abnormality caused primarily by Western “random breeding,” and adds that a strong economy can prevent homosexuality especially since gays regularly ensnare poor young people through prostitution.

Museveni reportedly said that South Africa’s retired archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights had discouraged him from signing the bill.


With Mandela Gone, Gays in South Africa Worry About Potential Rollback of Rights: VIDEO

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 11.36.48 AM

As the only country in Africa with marriage equality, gay and lesbian South Africans have arguably enjoyed more expansive freedoms and rights than most other LGBT individuals across the continent.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 11.38.53 AMSouth Africa's unique situation is, in no small part, thanks to Nelson Mandela and the human rights reforms he set into motion as president during the 1990s.

Now, with Mandela's passing, some gay South Africans are concerned about a possible rollback of LGBT rights. In a video profile, The New York Times interviews an interracial, gay South African couple to get their take on Mandela's passing and what it means for larger challenges related to the intersection of race, class, and sexuality in the country.

Check it out, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "With Mandela Gone, Gays in South Africa Worry About Potential Rollback of Rights: VIDEO" »


Rise Seen In Unprotected Sex Between Gay American Men

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the number of men who reported having unprotected anal sex within the last year has jumped by 20% between 2005 and 2011, The New York Times reports:

CdcThe data, published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, do not explain why unprotected sex has risen so rapidly, but a leading hypothesis, Dr. Frieden said, is that more men are “sero-sorting” — that is, those who are uninfected (“H.I.V. seronegative” on lab reports) try to sleep only with other men who are uninfected, or who hope they are, or who merely promise they are.

“The problem with sero-sorting is that it’s really easy to get it wrong,” Dr. Frieden said. “When one-third of men aren’t even tested in the last year and a tenth of those who thought they were negative were actually positive, you don’t want to risk your life on a guess.”

Other hypotheses, say Dr. Frieden and Dr. Jonathan Mermin, the disease centers’ director of H.I.V. prevention, are that many young men have never known anyone dying of AIDS and so do not fear it, or that they believe that they can easily stay on antiretroviral drugs for life.

Two leading independent AIDS researchers agreed only partly with those explanations.

“Young guys are less worried,” said Alex Carballo-Diéguez, a researcher at the H.I.V. Center of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University who has studied gay men’s behavior since the 1980s. “H.I.V. has become a chronic disease, and everyone knows some behaviors are bad for you, like smoking and trans fats. But in the moment of excitement, they’re going to do what they enjoy.”

Perry N. Halkitis, a researcher at New York University, meanwhile suggested that the rise in unprotected sex between gay American men can be attributed to two factors: the decreased transmission risk when sleeping with an HIV-positive person who is taking daily antiretroviral medication and the collapse in the economy which left many young men out of work, “and we see higher-risk behavior when people have more risk in their lives.” Halkitis cautions that though antiretroviral medications do significantly reduce the risk of transmission, not all men on the drugs take them everyday thus reducing their effectiveness.

The report from the CDC comes as a new aggressive strain of HIV, A3/02, has been discovered out of Guinea Bissau in West Africa, Al Jazeera reports. The new strain is recombinant, meaning that it is formed when "two of the most common strains in the region fuse together." A3/02 appears to descrease the time it takes for a person to develop AIDS once infected with HIV:

Guinea"Individuals who are infected with the new recombinant form develop AIDS within five years," Angelica Palm, one of the scientists involved in the study, said on Thursday.

"That's about two to two-and-a-half years faster than one of the parent [strains].

Research shows that recombinant strains, those created when different DNA combines, are a cause for concern.

"There have been some studies that indicate that whenever there is a so-called recombinant, it seems to be more competent or aggressive than the parental strains," Palm said.

You'll recall in October we reported on a similarly virulent strain of HIV that has emerged in Russia. Like that strain, A3/02 does not appear to be more deadly or resistant to treatment. In other words, existing medications will still fight A3/02. 

Researchers meanwhile are still searching for ways to target and destroy the HIV virus. While an HIV vaccine still appears to be a ways off, European scientists have come up with a model that could target and destroy the AIDS virus within a human body by preventing the virus from replicating, according to io9:

European researchers have used a computer to design small synthetic molecules capable of attacking the deadly AIDS virus where it hurts the most: its ability to produce the genetic material required for replication. It's the first time in history this has ever been done...

The novel designer molecules work by blocking the virus' ability to replicate. And they do so by inhibiting the output of genetic material from the infected cell nucleus to the cytoplasm. Without replication, no new infections can occur. So in theory, because all cells are mortal, even the infected cells will eventually wither away and die.


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