31 January 2014

Earlier this month, the Nigerian President signed a law criminalising gay marriage, homosexual clubs, associations and organisations with penalties of up to 14 years in jail. In the same week that the law was passed in Nigeria, 40 people were arrested and many had to flee their homes.

Meanwhile, in December the Ugandan Parliament passed a draft law imposing life sentences for “aggravated” homosexuality that will enter into force if signed by the Ugandan President. Among those who can be punished with life imprisonment are HIV-positive individuals who are found to have had sexual relations with a person of the same sex, even if the relations were consensual and protected. Individuals who know about another person’s homosexuality and do not report it to the authorities, and those who advocate for LGBTI rights, can also be punished.

LGBTI refugees in Uganda are already particularly vulnerable to pervasive violence and abuse, as ORAM – Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration – demonstrated in recent field research in partnership with Refugee Law Project in Kampala. If adopted and enforced, the proposed law will also criminalise refugee protection activities in Uganda, such as locating safe housing for LGBTI refugees, giving them access to health care and employment, and training NGOs and refugee professionals working on the ground on protection gaps affecting LGBTI refugees. The law will also halt legal representation of refugees and asylum seekers who have escaped persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The new law in Nigeria and the threatened legislation in Uganda will place hundreds of thousands of LGBTI people in grave danger. Certainly the vast majority will go into deep hiding if they can. But some will be turned in by family, neighbours or others”, explains Neil Grungras, Executive Director of ORAM.

“While legislation alone isn’t necessarily what makes one run, it creates an atmosphere of terror. Most of all, it declares open season on LGBTI people, telling prosecutors that they can harass, beat, rape and kill with impunity,” Grungras stated.

According to ORAM, these laws will have severe consequences not only for the human rights of local LGBTI communities but also for the refugees who are being hosted in Uganda, one of the most politically stable countries in the African Great Lakes region, where numerous migrants – including LGBTI individuals from neighbouring countries – have sought asylum. “Those who can escape the persecution will begin another long and perilous journey, ending up as refugees or asylum seekers in other places where they may again face violence and discrimination,” Grungras states.

Even before passing the law, ORAM’s research found that Uganda has one of the world’s most restrictive and homophobic legal and social environments for LGBTI refugees. Not only is adequate protection often unattainable, but LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers are also often exposed to violence and abuse both by state authorities and non-state actors. Common assaults include gang rape, beatings, stoning, and armed robbery.

“Does this mean that waves of LGBTI people will suddenly come pounding on Europe’s doors? Definitely not: most LGBTI people are too terrorized, marginalized, afraid and isolated to leave their home countries. Those who escape know that the road to safety will be intolerably long and difficult”, stresses Grungras.

According to a study by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), homosexuality is criminalised in over 70 countries in the world and in 5 countries it is punishable with death penalty.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 31 January 2014
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