Friday, March 8, 2013

Canada Kick-starts Funding For Gay Rights Initiatives In Uganda

By Brody Levesque | OTTAWA, CANADA -- An official with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade acknowledged Friday that there are ongoing efforts to fund grassroots Ugandan LGBTQ equality rights organisations, who are battling efforts by the Ugandan Parliament to pass that country’s proposed anti-homosexuality bill.
The bill seeks to impose prison terms of up to life imprisonment for LGBTQ people including their fellow citizens who fail to report them to the authorities.
Parliamentarians had also include provisions that would have mandated the death penalty for Ugandans who "practise homosexual acts with an aggravating factor,” such as a second or more [offence] conviction and including being HIV-positive.
Those provisions were allegedly removed after international condemnation and uproar ensued as several Western nations threatened to pull foreign aid funds to Uganda.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the Foreign Affairs official said that the Ministry has spent approximately $200,000 since November to counter the legislation- also referred to as the "Kill The Gays" bill- which Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird labeled “abhorrent." The ear marked funds also contain provisos in the case that the measure does pass.
Canadian media outlet The National Post reported that the legislation came back in the spotlight in November after Mr. Baird harshly criticized Uganda over the bill and its record on gay rights, at the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Quebec City.
In his speech, Mr. Baird detailed the story of a Ugandan gay-rights advocate David Kato who was  was murdered in his home by two blows with a hammer in his own home in Kampala in January of 2011.
Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of Uganda’s parliament, repudiated Mr. Baird’s criticism. “I will not stop a private member’s bill from going ahead,” she said.
After returning to Uganda, Ms. Kadaga promised to get the bill passed, calling it a “Christmas present” to the country. In an interview, Ms. Kadaga said of Mr. Baird’s push to kill the bill: “He was acting out of ignorance, and he was just being arrogant.”
A spokesperson for the minister, Rick Roth, told the National Post that “Canadian officials have conveyed Canada’s concerns with the bill to Uganda’s Foreign Ministry,” and confirmed that Canada is “working closely with Ugandan civil society.”
The bill is currently languishing in the Parliament moving up and down the list of legislative order but never coming before the legislature for a vote. It currently sits at number five on the list of bills to come before legislators. 
The financing agreements between local organizations and the Department of Foreign Affairs were signed in January, and carried out in late February, with most ongoing until the end of March. The money was divvied up between Uganda, neighbouring Kenya — where Canada’s high commissioner for Uganda is based — and on region-wide projects.
Despite Canada’s direct involvement with the projects, including participation by the High Commissioner, Ottawa’s involvement is not being advertised, at least not according the Foreign Affairs official and LGBTQ activists.
One project based near Uganda in neighboring Kenya was created to prepare for emergency scenarios – such as the passage of the Ugandan anti-gay bill – where LGBTQ people would need protection or help fleeing the area.
Another project trained activists in raising public awareness of LGBTQ equality rights, and also trained dozens of activists how to use international human rights legislation to protect homosexuals, and established a working group to foster litigation strategy to defend minority rights in the region, with a focus on LGBTQ equality rights.