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Letter to Congressional Caucus about US support for Ugandan homophobia

Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned by an expanding pattern of attacks in Uganda upon the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In recent weeks, members of President Yoweri Museveni’s government have called for enforcement of the country’s draconian sodomy law—which punishes consensual same-sex sexual relations with up to life in prison—and have reportedly threatened to pass new laws extending and expanding the reach of punishment. Such threats are part of a long-standing pattern of harassment and state condemnation of people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The resultant atmosphere threatens health as well as human rights. It also threatens to drive further underground populations affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and further to thwart and silence prevention efforts directed at them. These attacks, moreover, come in a context where HIV-prevention efforts that condemn both the use of condoms and the fact of homosexual conduct have apparently been funded by the US government. We therefore urge you:

  • To condemn the threats against LGBT people in Uganda as both destructive to human rights protections and dangerous to health;
  • To ask from the Office of the Global Aids Coordinator the names of all Ugandan organizations that have received funding under the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR)1 as grantees or subgrantees between 2004-2007;
  • To seek clarification of whether funding has been extended to organizations in any country—as partners or sub-partners--that promote discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, or that promote abstinence-only policies in such a way as to condemn the use of condoms altogether and to ensure such funding is discontinued;
  • To seek clarification whether such funding is in accord with US policy;
  • To clarify that the US government supports the full human rights of all persons, including LGBT people and all other persons affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and that LGBT people and men who have sex with men (MSMs) should be fully included in HIV/AIDS prevention programs in Uganda and worldwide.

On August 21, Radio One in Uganda announced that Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi had called for the criminal law to be used against lesbians and gays in Uganda. “I call upon the relevant agencies to take appropriate action because homosexuality is an offense under the laws of Uganda,” he reportedly said. Days earlier, Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo had publicly called homosexuality "unnatural”—and, while deprecating charges that police harassed LGBT people, warned “We know them, we have details of who they are.”

These announcements came a week after an organization called Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a coalition of four LGBT organizations--Freedom and Roam Uganda, Spectrum Uganda, Integrity Uganda and Icebreakers Uganda--launched a campaign called “Let us Live in Peace.” In a press conference in Kampala on August 16th, the group condemned discrimination and violence against LGBT people, as well as the life-threatening silence about their sexualities in HIV/AIDS prevention programs. Juliet Victor Mukasa, a SMUG leader, described how authorities raided her home in 2005 and forced her into hiding.

The threats to Mukasa are only one indicator of a widespread environment of homophobia in Uganda, repeatedly promoted by state officials. Buturo has made public statements urging both legal action against LGBT people and censorship of their free expression on many previous occasions. As Minister for Information, in October 2004, he ordered police to investigate and “take appropriate action against” a gay association allegedly organized at Makerere University, warning that “activities of foreign funded local groups as well as individuals are threatening to undermine our values.”2

Last year, he urged East African governments to harmonise information technology policy “to counter the evils of technology like homosexuality and pornographic trade that are morally repugnant to the majority of our peoples.”3 As minister of Minister of Ethics and Integrity he has reiterated his position. During a rally held in Kampala on August 21st, 2007, Minister Buturo declared that homosexuality broke three laws, “the law of God, the law of nature, and the law of the land.”4 In his latest interview to the Sunday Vision newspaper, on September 6, 2007, he said they were “considering changing the laws so that promotion [of homosexual conduct] itself becomes a crime” and to have “catalogues of people [the government] think[s] are involved in perpetuating the vice of homosexuality.” He reiterated that “homosexuality is totally unhealthy.” 5

Worse yet, state officials turn prejudice into policy, to impede HIV/AIDS programs directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. According to PEPFAR’s Uganda FY 2007 Country Operational Plan (COP), “approximately 940,000 Ugandans are HIV positive,”6 (6.7%), and HIV prevalence has been increasing in rural areas.7 HIV prevention programmes for men who have sex for men (MSM) are of vital importance in the fight against HIV. PEPFAR guidelines state that MSM should be one of the prioritized groups in the emergency plan as a high risk population. 8 According to UNAIDS, specific policies for MSM are crucial. “First and foremost, they must be included in national HIV programming and funding priorities.” 9

Yet as Minister of Information, Nsaba Buturo wrote to both UNAIDS and the Uganda Aids Commission to protest the inclusion of lgbt members in HIV/AIDS initiatives and coordination mechanisms, citing the law against homosexual conduct in Uganda. 10 James Kigozi, spokesman for the Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC) ,11 stated: "There's no mention of gays and lesbians in the national strategic framework, because the practice of homosexuality is illegal.”12

The United States government enables and supports these devastating exclusions. By definition, abstinence-until-marriage programs discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. For young people who are lesbian or gay and cannot legally marry in Uganda, these messages imply a lifetime of enforced celibacy. They deny these people information about safer sex which could save their lives. They also convey a message about the intrinsic wrongfulness of homosexual conduct which reinforces existing social stigma and prejudice to potentially devastating effect.

In Uganda, the Ministry of Health, the Uganda Aids Commission, and the Ministry of Defense currently receive PEPFAR money. 13 The country collects its national data on sexual behavior through its periodic U.S.-funded demographic and health surveys. The U.S. Government has also given money to faith-based organizations with close government ties, such as the Uganda Youth Forum founded by First Lady Janet Museveni. 14 A representative of the first lady’s office has stated that the Youth Forum is funded by foreign donors, and that “the Bush Administration’s support for abstinence … has helped us a lot.” 15 An article published in World magazine in November 2004 alleged that Mrs. Museveni had received U.S.$3 million from the U.S. government to promote abstinence and faithfulness programs.16 Several U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations operating in Kampala also reported that the Youth Forum had been funded with PEPFAR HIV prevention money. 17

In particular, one recipient of PEPFAR funds with ties to multiple organizations has echoed and joined government officials in condemning both LGBT people and the HIV prevention programs most likely to save their lives. Martin Ssempa is pastor of Makerere Community Church and director of the Campus Alliance to Wipe Out Aids (CAWA) in Kampala, two faith-based organizations with a vigorous commitment to supporting abstinence.

Ssempa has attacked provision of condoms as part of the ABC strategy. In September 2004, he set fire to a box of condoms in Makerere University. According to press reports, he prayed over fire, “I burn these condoms in the name of Jesus!”18 Ssempa does not deny burning these condoms,19 though he has alleged, in testimony before the House International Relations Committee, that he burnt them because “those condoms had been banned by the government a few days earlier, that they would pose a significant risk to the population at large. So I was simply fulfilling what the government had ordered, a recall, a destruction of those condoms.” 20 However, the Ugandan government did not recall them until nearly one month afterward, casting this professed motive into question. 21 The burning of condoms took place in the context of repeated campaigns the pastor has undertaken against condom usage. In September 2005, for instance, he wrote an open letter to the United Nations envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, criticizing him for advocating an end to the Ugandan condom shortage; in it, he accused him of having a “personal agenda of condomizing the developing nations” and of wanting to “condomise the world.” 22

This condemnation of condoms comes in tandem with a deep abhorrence of LGBT people’s sexualities and lives. Amid government attacks on LGBT people last month, Pastor Martin Ssempa led in organizing a rally on August 21 rally in Kampala, to send “a call for action on behalf of victims of homosexuality.”23 Sempa was reported to have called homosexual conduct “a criminal act against the laws of nature.” Ssempa led hundreds of demonstrators demanding government action to punish LGBT people. In recent weeks Ssempa has also declared to news outlets that “Homosexuals should absolutely not be included in Uganda's HIV/AIDS framework. It is a crime, and when you are trying to stamp out a crime you don't include it in your programmes." 24

Adding to an atmosphere of silence and menace, a website-- published an official statement by Ssempa, as representative of the rally organizers, that listed Ugandan LGBT rights activists by name. It posted their pictures and contacts, calling them “homosexual promoters.”25 Following Ssempa’s example and further endangering the LGBT community, The Red Pepper, a local newspaper, has recently published names, detailed descriptions, and meeting places of people who alleged engage in homosexual conduct.26

Pastor Ssempa has acted as representative of First Lady Janet Museveni, a PEPFAR grantee: he attended the 3rd HIV Partnership Forum held in Kampala in November 2004 on her behalf 27 and has worked in the National Abstinence Coalition, program with the office of the First Lady. He has also testified before U.S. Congress on the HIV/AIDS situation in Uganda as a Special Representative to the First Lady of Uganda's Task Force on AIDS. 28

According to Ambassador Randall L. Tobias, former U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, an organization that publicly states that condoms do not protect from HIV/AIDS or that burns condoms in public would not be eligible to receive money from the U.S. government. 29 Yet the Makerere Community Church has received funds from PEPFAR as a sub-partner of Population Services International. 30 An article in World Magazine this year, about “organizer Martin Ssempa … who heads Uganda’s Global Alliance for Prevention, or GAP,” also states that “GAP within the last year secured $40,000 in US abstinence-education money” from PEPFAR. 31

Abstinence-only policies that condemn, discourage, or stigmatize condom use are a threat to effective HIV prevention. Abstinence-until-marriage policies deny the sexualities of LGBT people, and intersect with and reinforce homophobia. Uganda has become a case study in these effects and intersections. In recent weeks, a US-funded government and at least one influential US-funded activist--both committed to flawed abstinence-only programs, both virulently opposed to condoms as a means of prevention, and united by their insistence on legal measures against LGBT people—have combined to create an atmosphere where the human rights and safety of LGBT Ugandans are at risk.

USAID and the U.S. Congress have observed these developments, and arguably encouraged them. To fully respect the rights of the Ugandan LGBT community the threats and the discrimination in their inclusion in all HIV/AIDS prevention programs should stop. Where human rights are stake, it is vital to take a stand.


Scott Long
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program
Human Rights Watch

1 In May 27, 2003, Congress approved $15 billion to fight AIDS worldwide (P.L. 108-25). This money was implemented through the Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR). Twelve of the country focus groups are in Africa; Uganda is one of them.

2 Mwanguhya Charles Mpagi and Hussein Bogere, “Police told to probe MUK gays,” The Monitor, October 29, 2004.

3 Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa “East Africa: We Need to Regulate IT Laws in East Africa, Says Buturo”, The Monitor, May 1st, 2006,, accessed September 12, 2007.

4 Katherine Roubos, “Rally denounces homosexuality”, The Daily Monitor, August 22, 2007,, accessed September 12, 2007; “Ugandans hold anti-gay sex rally”, BBC News, 21 August, 2007,, accessed September 12, 2007.

5 Alfred Wasike, “Tough anti-gay law due”, Sunday Vision, August 25, 2007,, accessed September 13, 2007.

6 Uganda FY 2007 Country Operational Plan (COP),

7 UNAIDS, Report on the global AIDS epidemic 2006, May 2006, p.475,

8 The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, ABC Guidance #1 For United States Government In-Country Staff and Implementing Partners Applying the ABC Approach To Preventing Sexually-Transmitted HIV Infections Within The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, p. 8,

9 UNAIDS, Policies for Affected Communities: Men who have Sex with Men,, accessed September 13, 2007. “Government warns UNAIDS over gays”, The Daily Monitor, November 29, 2004.

10 “Government warns UNAIDS over gays”, The Daily Monitor, November 29, 2004.

11 This is the overall coordinating HIV/AIDS body in Uganda. It also acts as the Secretariat for the Emergency Plan Advisory Committee,

12 “UGANDA: Stuck in the closet: gays left out of HIV/AIDS strategy”, Plus News, March 17, 2006,, accessed September, 13, 2007.

13 Uganda FY 2007 Country Operational Plan (COP),

14 See

15 Human Rights Watch interview, Beat Bisangwa, office of the first lady, Kampala, November 16, 2004.

16 Priya Abraham, “Hooked on Failure Africa: In Africa’s Fight Against AIDS, the United States Continues to Support Family-Planning Groups that Stifle the White House Abstinence and Fidelity Message,” World Magazine, November 6, 2004,, retrieved December 8, 2004).

17 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kampala, November 9, 10, & 11, 2004 and Washington DC, December 21, 2004.

18 Quoted in: Helen Epstein, The New York Review of Books: “God and the Fight Against Aids”, Volume 52, number 7, April 28, 2005,, accessed September 12, 2007. He told Epstein, “It’s horrible. You can’t promote condoms and abstinence at the same time! We need to ensure that George W. Bush’s money gets into the right hands” and added “Those who are doing abstinence-ONLY, as determined by the legislation”.

19 Edmund Sanders, “Uganda Takes Up Abstinence Campaign; Activists say the nation’s shift away from encouraging condom use threatens one of the world’s most successful anti-AIDS programs”, Los Angeles Times, 31 October 2005,, accessed September 12, 2007.

20 Hearing before the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations, “U.S. Response to Global AIDS Crisis: A Two-Year Review,” 109th Congress, April 25, 2005, at, accessed September 7, 2007). See also New Vision, “Homosexuality is against our culture”, September 4, 2007,, accessed September 12, 2007.

21 Helen Epstein, The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight against Aids, p. 303-304. Minister of Health Brig. Jim Muhwezi publicly announced government plans to investigate and potentially withhold Engabu condoms only in late October 2004, not “a few days earlier” but well after the reported condom-burning incident: Anne Mugisa, “Govt probes Engabu,” New Vision, October 27, 2004, at, accessed September 7, 2007.

22 “Ugandan Anti-AIDS Activist Demands UN Fire Lewis for Pushing Condoms,” Life Site News, September 7, 2005,, accessed September 5, 2007.

23 Ephraim Kasozi, “Churches Plan Demo Against Homos,” The Monitor, August 21, 2007,

24 Plus News, August 24, 2007,, accessed September 12, 2007

25 “The Official Statement of Inter Faith, Culture and Family Coalition against Homosexuality in Uganda to the Uganda Government”, August 23, 2007,, accessed August 23, 2007.

26 “Homo Terror! We name And Shame Top Gays In The City”, The Red Pepper, September 9, 2007.

27 Uganda Aids Commission, Office of the President, Reporting the Present, Preparing the Future, Forum Report, January 2005. See the list of participants at the end of the document (document rests in HRW files).

28 House of Representatives Committee on International Relations, U.S. Response to Global Aids Crisis: a Two Year Review, 109th Congress, First Session, 13 April 2005, serial number 189-86

29 See: House of Representatives Committee on International Relations, U.S. Response to Global Aids Crisis: a Two Year Review, 109th Congress, First Session, 13 April 2005, serial number 189-86, p. 34. When asked by representative Tom Lantos: “If an organization publicly announces that condoms do not protect young people from HIV/AIDS and demonstrably engages in the public burning of condoms, would such actions make them ineligible for U.S. taxpayer funds?” Tobias replied, “Based on the facts as you have represented them, I would think it would.”

30 See for a complete list of organizations that have received money from Pepfar for FY 2004.

31 Mindy Belz, “Taking pride in purity,” World Magazine, November 18, 2006,, accessed September 5, 2007.

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