Uganda po­lice use tor­ture to ‘prove’ ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

It was early in the morn­ing when Jack­son Mukasa was awak­ened by the chants out­side his Kam­pala home. “The ho­mos are in there!” the crowd yelled, bang­ing spoons on metal cook­ing pots. Mukasa, a 21-year-old gay man liv­ing in the Ugan­dan cap­i­tal, was ter­ri­fied. “We opened the door, and there were po­lice and peo­ple ev­ery­where. The lo­cal coun­cil­man was there, yelling ‘Out with the ho­mos! You are scar­ing peo­ple in the area.’ I still have scars from the beat­ings that fol­lowed,” Mukasa said.

It was Jan 2014. After be­ing beaten by the mob, the po­lice took Mukasa and a male friend stay­ing with him in for ques­tion­ing, he said. They were both sub­jected to forced anal ex­am­i­na­tions, said Mukasa. “We were ques­tioned, beaten again, forced to ad­mit to ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. They took us to (a) clinic in Kam­pala where we were ex­am­ined,” he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. “It is so painful. The doc­tor puts a ma­chine up your rec­tum. It hurts so much, and there is blood,” he said in a phone in­ter­view.

Uganda is one of 36 coun­tries in Africa where ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is il­le­gal, and one of eight coun­tries glob­ally where Hu­man Rights Watch has com­piled ev­i­dence of the use of forced anal ex­am­i­na­tions to “prove” ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Emil­ian Kay­ima, a Kam­pala po­lice spokesman, de­nied that forced ex­am­i­na­tions took place. “We do not need anal ex­am­i­na­tion to prove a per­son is gay. When we ar­rest gay peo­ple, we take them to the courts of law be­cause what they are en­gag­ing in is il­le­gal un­der the laws of Uganda,” Kay­ima told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

“If any gay per­son claims they have been tor­tured or forced to un­dergo anal ex­am­i­na­tion, they need to come for­ward with ev­i­dence stat­ing when and where it hap­pened in­stead of run­ning to the press to make base­less claims,” Kay­ima added. The Ugan­dan health min­istry de­clined to an­swer ques­tions from the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

How­ever, lo­cal rights cam­paign­ers and Hu­man Rights Watch say Mukasa is one of sev­eral vic­tims of forced anal ex­am­i­na­tions in the east African coun­try. They say while the prac­tice is used os­ten­si­bly to pre­vent the trans­mis­sion of HIV, it is merely a form of dis­crim­i­na­tion and abuse. Uganda lawyer Ni­cholas Opiyo is pre­par­ing a con­sti­tu­tional case to ban forced anal ex­am­i­na­tions. He be­lieves the HIV and AIDS Pre­ven­tion and Con­trol Act is used il­le­gally, as an ex­cuse to “prove” ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

“They are us­ing the law as an ex­cuse to carry out the ex­am­i­na­tions. We want them banned,” he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion from Kam­pala in a phone in­ter­view. “In all the cases we have dealt with, peo­ple are ar­rested and taken to cer­tain clin­ics,” he said, de­scrib­ing how Mukasa’s case was typ­i­cal.

Like most of sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, Uganda is highly re­li­gious and so­cially con­ser­va­tive. Vi­o­lence against les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der (LGBT) peo­ple is com­mon and politi­cians have long tried to pass leg­is­la­tion that de­nies ba­sic rights to the LGBT com­mu­nity. A law passed more than two years ago, pun­ish­ing gay sex with long prison terms, pro­voked an in­ter­na­tional storm of protest and led some donor coun­tries to with­hold aid.

The con­sti­tu­tional court over­turned the law - for­merly known as the “Kill the Gays” bill be­cause a first draft in­cluded the death penalty for gay sex - on a tech­ni­cal­ity in Au­gust 2014. Cases like Mukasa’s are not de­signed to get LGBT peo­ple con­victed in court, ac­cord­ing to Opiyo. “The ex­am­i­na­tions aren’t used as ev­i­dence, they are used as a tool to de­hu­man­ize and stig­ma­tize,” he said.

Mukasa, who used to work in a res­tau­rant, said po­lice and au­thor­i­ties made no at­tempt to hide his iden­tity. “I can­not walk the street, I can­not get medicine, I do not have any money and can­not claim ben­e­fits be­cause I am a ho­mo­sex­ual,” he said. Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts such ex­am­i­na­tions have no va­lid­ity, ei­ther legally or med­i­cally. “There is ab­so­lutely no value in such ex­am­i­na­tions for this pur­pose,” Vin­cent Ia­copino, med­i­cal di­rec­tor at Physi­cians for Hu­man Rights, said by phone from the United States.

He said the ex­am­i­na­tions were un­eth­i­cal, harm­ful, and in some cases, tor­ture. As­ger Kjaerum, ad­vo­cacy di­rec­tor at the In­ter­na­tional Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Coun­cil for Tor­ture Vic­tims, agreed. “These prac­tices lack both sci­en­tific value and vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional stan­dards on the ban of tor­ture and ill­treat­ment,” he said in an email from Copen­hagen.

Surge of Ex­am­i­na­tions

Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was banned in Uganda in 1952. In re­cent years, as­saults against LGBT peo­ple have been on the rise, ac­cord­ing to Hu­man Rights Watch, fu­elled by the anti-gay poli­cies of Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni’s gov­ern­ment. “Heated dis­course around the pas­sage of the Anti-Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity Act and its dra­co­nian pro­vi­sions ap­pears to have led to an in­crease in ha­rass­ment of per­sons per­ceived to be LGBT by civil­ians and the po­lice alike,” Neela Ghoshal, se­nior re­searcher at Hu­man Rights Watch, said in a re­port this year.

Hu­man rights lawyer Opiyo is cur­rently pre­par­ing his case, and ex­pects to file it within the com­ing months. “Anal ex­am­i­na­tions are a form of tor­ture, a vi­o­la­tion of the Ugan­dan Con­sti­tu­tion, the African Char­ter, and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights. We want them banned,” he said. “If the court de­clares the prac­tice un­con­sti­tu­tional, the ex­am­i­na­tions will be un­law­ful, mean­ing any­one en­gaged in per­form­ing the ex­am­i­na­tions could be sued,” he said.

Mukasa’s case was even­tu­ally dis­missed due to lack of ev­i­dence, but he says he feels con­victed, and is serv­ing a sen­tence - al­beit out of jail. He has changed his iden­tity since the case, and is now liv­ing in a shel­ter, iso­lated from fam­ily and friends. “I have lost my job be­cause of the case,” he said. “Peo­ple know who I am, I can’t leave my house. I can­not get a taxi, I can­not get a job, all be­cause of the case.” —Reuters

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