In a landmark case, a court in Uganda ruled in favor of two women who were arrested and harassed by police on suspicions of being lesbians.
Homosexuality is still illegal in Uganda and homophobia is the norm.
Gay rights activists Yvonne Oyoo and Victor Juliet Mukasa filed the suit against the Ugandan government after local officials illegally raided Mukasa’s home looking for “incriminating material” in July of 2005, according to a report on Uganda Pulse.
In that raid, Mukasa was beaten up while Oyoo was arrested, held and tortured for several days without a formal charge.
Oyoo was detained and forced to strip “to prove that she was a woman”; a Ugandan news website reported that both women were beaten, while Radio Netherlands said Yvonne was sexually assaulted.
The raid and arrest occurred in the same month that Uganda’s Parliament constitutionally outlawed same-sex marriage; in ruling against the government, Justice Stella Arac cited police violations of the constitutional rights to privacy, property and fundamental rights of women.
The women were awarded a total of 13 million shillings (around $6,700) in damages and for humiliation and harassment at the hands of the police.
Although the government has no plan to appeal the decision, gays in Uganda still face harassment, condemnation by religious leaders, and arrest under homosexuality laws.
Uganda’s Anglican bishops have been particularly outspoken in targeting gays, and have been lauded by American religious conservatives for their stance, reports the Kampala Monitor and other sources.
Over the summer, Uganda’s AIDS Commission Director stated that gay HIV patients would be denied medical services due to a lack of resources, adding that the gay population was driving the epidemic.
Three activists who protested the statement were later arrested, and one tortured, according to Afrol News.
Ugandan media is also a focus of the conflict. Afrol News reports that gay and lesbian citizens experienced severe acts of prejudice after media outlets published lists of their names. And in 2004, the government fined a private radio station for promoting HIV prevention between gay men for “public morality” reasons.
Yet December’s court ruling is considered major progress towards securing equality for gay Ugandans, and some hopefuls say South Africa’s 2006 legalization of same-sex marriage is similarly inspiring.
–Julia Hengst & Lauren Riggs/Newsdesk.org
“Uganda Government News: Ugandan Homosexuals win historic case”
UGPulse.com, December 23, 2008
“Court gives Christmas present to Ugandan gays”
Afrol News, December 25, 2008
“Uganda Government News: Government will not appeal pro gay ruling”
UGPulse, December 24, 2008
“Ugandan judge condemns humiliation of lesbians”
Radio Netherlands Worldwide, December 26, 2008
“Uganda police torture gay rights activist”
Afrol News, July 28, 2008
“Ugandan gay activists arrested at HIV meeting”
Afrol News, June 5, 2008
“Uganda: Gay Row – U.S. Pastor Supports Country On Boycott”
The Kampala Monitor, March 29, 2008
“Warren-Endorsed Nigerian Archbishop backed Abri-Gay Laws Worse Than Pre-WWII Third Reich’s”
The Huffington Post, December 24, 2008