29 September 2011
The whole text with notes is available in pdf here.
The human rights situation in Uganda in general, and the plight of sexual minorities in particular, is getting worse. They are blamed for social problems and are "the good enemy" that politicians can attack in order to garner support. In this situation, SMUG’s work is especially important. The battle they wage is for human rights’ most basic purpose: to protect individuals from abuses by the authorities and the majority. The Rafto Foundation hereby gives its support to the work against what former SMUG leader Victor Juliet Mukasa, characterized as a "state-sponsored homophobia that is spreading across the African continent".
SMUG is a coalition of organisations that work for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI people, or sexual minorities, which is the term used by SMUG). Since its inception in 2004, SMUG has become a powerful voice for a stigmatised and persecuted minority. The coalition has played an important role in opposing the proposed "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" and has successfully used the legal system to fight harassment and violence from government and private actors. SMUG also does important work supporting individuals who suffer from abuse.
Frank Mugisha and his colleagues in SMUG have demonstrated great courage in fronting the fight for LGBTI people’s rights. People who do not conform to society’s gender and sexual norms are subject to abuse in today’s Uganda. Homosexuality is publicly portrayed as "un-African" and a "contagious" pollutant that destroys society and therefore must be eliminated. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons are often ostracised by their families and local communities and are left without any form of social safety net. Many lose their jobs and place at school and end up having to live in the slum.
Frank Mugisha describes a life in fear: "I don’t know what could happen to me at any minute. I do not know who wants to hang me, I do not know who wants to attack me".
A lesbian who fled Uganda after being beaten and threatened by a mob before having her house burned to the ground explains: “They would point and shout at us in the street. They would swear or say ‘You lesbians, that is disgusting. It is against nature. Heaven will not accept you’". She fears for what will happen when she returns to Uganda after being refused residency in Great Britain.
The “Anti-Homosexuality Bill”
Frank Mugisha and his colleagues cannot expect protection from the Ugandan authorities. Sex between persons of the same gender has been prohibited since colonial times and can, in principle, be punished with lifetime imprisonment. Proposed legislation from October 2009 (”Anti-Homosexuality Bill”) proposes lifetime imprisonment as a minimum sentence and a death sentence for repeat offences, or if the person is HIV positive or has had sex with a minor.
The situation for sexual minorities in Uganda must be seen in the context of the political developments in the country, where president Yoweri Museveni has been in power for 25 years. Ugandan politicians like David Bahati, use sexual minorities as scapegoats for social problems. They serve as a useful distraction from human rights violations, corruption, and misgovernment. By playing on people’s prejudices, anti-democratic forces gain greater room to manoeuvre. It is important the international community also sees the bigger picture, and don’t let the "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" distract from other human rights abuses.
By awarding the 2011 Rafto Prize to SMUG and Frank Mugisha’s fight for sexual minorities, the Rafto Foundation wishes to underscore that human rights encompass everyone and that it is unacceptable to persecute or discriminate against anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Rafto Foundation supports this, and by awarding the prize it hopes to support and make Norwegian and other authorities more accountable in this work. We also wish to help make the fight against discrimination of sexual minorities a high priority among private organisations and companies that work in Uganda and other countries where the situation for these groups is precarious.
The Rafto Foundation, Bergen, Norway. Wednesday 17 August 2011
The 2011 Rafto Prize is awarded at the National Venue of Theatre (Den Nationale Scene), in Bergen, Norway on Sunday, 6 November 2011 at 18.00-19.30.
More information about:
– former Rafto Prize laureates
– Rafto/NHH seminar, arranged on Thursday, 3 November
– Rafto symposium 2011, arranged on Friday, 4 November
– Rafto Prize ceremony 2011, arranged on Sunday, 6 November