human rights


Ugandan prof cites western roots of Africa’s anti-gay movement | 

Stella Nyanzi
Stella Nyanzi

Stella Nyanzi is an anthropologist who studies gender and sexuality issues in Uganda, at Makerere University in Kampala.

Talk about being at the eye of the storm.

Uganda has become ground zero for what some characterize as an explosion of homophobia and increased criminalization of homosexuality in Africa. Hostility toward gays is hardly new or confined to Africa, of course, as Humanosphere has noted. Nearly 80 countries worldwide consider homosexuality a crime, with some making it a death penalty crime.

“In Africa, I think it’s worth noting that the countries with the most severe laws are former British colonies,’ said Nyanzi, who will be the keynote speaker at a Seattle conference focused on sexuality, health and human rights. “You don’t see this so much in the former colonies of other countries.”

The conference, hosted and run by students at the University of Washington, is the 11th annual Western Regional International Health Conference, which opens with Nyanzi speaking on Friday and runs through the weekend.

The meeting will also screen a powerful documentary, Call Me Kuchu, that describes the plight of gays in Uganda – and the murder of a gay activist.

“This is happening in many places but I’m not sure everyone recognizes why, and how,” said Nyanzi. Continue reading

A chat with Bill Gates’ least favorite aid expert, Bill Easterly | 

Bill Easterly
Bill Easterly

William Easterly is a leading voice on the aid and development scene that folks seem to either love or hate. Bill Gates is in the latter camp, as this Gates Foundation blog post would indicate.

On Tuesday, March 25, starting at 7:30 pm in Seattle Town Hall, Easterly will be speaking about what he thinks needs to change in the way we approach the fight against global poverty. His talk is entitled Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, which may sound a little predictable and boring. It won’t be.

Easterly is always entertainingly provocative and his thesis – which, put simply, is that many if not most aid projects actually cause more harm than good – is an aggressive stab at the heart of much of the aid and development establishment. Continue reading

New law makes harsher climate for gay Ugandans | 

Ugandan pupils from different schools take part in an event organised by born-again Christians to celebrate the signing of a new anti-gay bill that sets harsh penalties for homosexual sex, at the Omega Healing Center outside of Kampala, in Uganda Monday, Feb. 24, 2014.
Ugandan pupils from different schools take part in an event organised by born-again Christians to celebrate the signing of a new anti-gay bill.
AP Photo/Stephen Wandera

Boston, MA – Returning home to Uganda after two years makes James* feel uneasy. As a gay man from a country that penalizes homosexuality, James cannot even use his real name for fear of outing himself to the wrong people.

“I choose not to think about it,” he said to Humanosphere.

Only some friends and family know that that he James is gay. Being out has not necessarily changed the minds of the people close to him. The Boston-area student said that friends that do not know about his sexuality will freely share anti-homosexual sentiments on social media.

“The ones that know; I will post something on Facebook and they won’t say anything,” he said. “They choose not to engage in that, but they will comment on other things.”

That was before the east African nation’s President Yoweri Museveni signed into law legislation that now imposes harsher penalties on homosexuality. People can now go to jail for life if convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.” Such a punishment would be dealt to those having gay sex with a minor, having sex if infected with HIV and with a vulnerable victim. It adds onto existing laws that carried punishments from 14 years to life in prison.

The law makes for a more tense situation in a country that has witnessed hostility towards gay Ugandans. Activist David Kato was among some 100 Ugandans outed by the tabloid magazine Rolling Stone in 2010. A year later he was brutally attacked in his home. He died on the way to the hospital. A public outcry galvanized the issue of gay rights in Uganda to slow down anti-gay legislation, but the law finally passed.

Such tactics were undertaken only a day after the bill was signed.The headline on today’s Ugandan tabloid magazine Red Pepper, touted exposing “Uganda’s 200 Top Homos.” International leaders reacted strongly to the signing.

“We will continue to urge the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent law and to advocate for the protection of the universal human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. Continue reading

Rights abuses curtail Sierra Leone’s mining boom, say human rights activists | 

Children play in one of the new villages created for relocated families to make room for the African Minerals Limited iron ore mine near the town of Bumbuna, Sierra Leone.
Children play in one of the new villages created for relocated families to make room for the African Minerals Limited iron ore mine near the town of Bumbuna, Sierra Leone.
Rona Peligal/HRW

The mining boom in Sierra Leone that is supposed to help the poor West African nation is harming its citizens.

African Minerals Limited has been working in the iron ore-rich central Sierra Leone for nearly eighteen years. The company’s resulting work has led to the forced displacement of hundreds of families and excessively violent crackdowns against protests, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Workers at the African Minerals Limited mine located in Bumbuna went on strike, on April 16, 2012. Unhappy with the working conditions and the inability to unionize, the workers gathered together to prevent vehicles from entering the mining site. The following day, 200 police officers showed up to control the protests.

One of the contractors, a woman named Musu Conteh, was shot and killed while she was singing in protest with her fellow workers, said HRW. Eight more people were injured in the incident. The police defended their actions by saying that the protesters were attempting to burn down a fuel depot.

“[She] was right in front of me,” said a witness to HRW.

“The police led an ambush close to the police station using teargas on us. We all fell, and the woman in front of me bent down to gather leaves to cover her eyes and nose. As she was bending to pick up the leaves, she was shot.

“As she got up, she was shot again in her heart and back.”

Investigations following the incident by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone determined that was not the case. Further, the people were not carrying weapons, beyond sticks and stones, as the police also alleged.

A new report by HRW, Whose Development? Human Rights Abuses in Sierra Leone’s Mining Boom, says the economic drive of the nation’s government is hampered by current policies. It investigates the events that happened during the protest and the conditions that led to it taking place. The report recommends total transparency of operations to increase the accountability of mining companies and ensure that communities are well informed.

Continue reading

Ground zero for the next potential genocide: Central African Republic | 

Doctors Without Borders tried to once again call attention to the ongoing violence in the Central African Republic. The organization has treated tens of thousands of people for injuries from grenades, machetes and more, since December. It said that the world was not doing enough to address a problem that has continued to deteriorate since the overthrow of the government last March.

This week, I speak with Muriel Tschopp, International Rescue Committees’ Emergency Field Programme Coordinator.  She is on the ground in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, where much of the international response to the crisis is focused. Bottom line is that this crisis can likely be averted, before it gets worse with the rainy season, simply by beefing up the peacekeeping presence. Says Tschopp:

“The majority of the people are trapped in the middle” between Muslim and Christian extremist militias, explains Tschopp. Much of the  fighting may be drawn across religious lines, but current tensions are not deep rooted. There’s a long history of the two sides getting along just fine, with lots of intermarriage and little bloodshed.

The opportunity to change the course of violence and restore order to the Central African Republic is there, but security is sorely needed. Tschopp’s sentiments reflect that of many humanitarian organizations working in response to the crisis, including the UN.

In the headlines portion, Tom Murphy and I discuss an interesting new study on savings and loans groups in Uganda. After the NGOs left, people started forming their own group, to the surprise of the researchers. We also heard from Tom about his new series, Migration Matters. He explains why he is interested in the issue of immigration and brain drain.

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Rights Groups Pressure Myanmar to Investigate Killing of 40 Rohingya Muslims | 

The UN and Human Rights Watch want the government in Myanmar to investigate reported killings in the northern Rakhine State. It is alleged that more than 40 Rohingya Muslims were killed in the village of Du Chee Yar Tan, between January 9 and 13. Further information indicates that 10 Rohingya men were detained during the same period and are experiencing harsh treatment while held.

“By responding to these incidents quickly and decisively, the Government has an opportunity to show transparency and accountability, which will strengthen democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, yesterday. “I also encourage the Government to provide humanitarian actors with access to the village to provide any assistance needed to the local population.”

Rohingya IDP camp
Rohingya IDP camp

Violence against Rohingya Muslims has continued with little sign of stopping. As a result, some 140,000 people are current displaced within Rakhine State. Attempts to seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh have largely failed due to a lack of willingness by the Bangladeshi government to accept people fleeing. It is further complicated by the fact that 800,000 people in the state do not have citizenship. Continue reading

Murder of spy chief highlights two Rwandas: Separating myth from reality | 

Editor’s note: Humanosphere has noted before that there are two Rwandas – one an African success story celebrated by the humanitarian sector for its stunning improvements in health and poverty reduction; the other a nation quietly suffering from oppression, authoritarianism and state-sanctioned violence. The recent murder of a former close colleague of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame supports the concerns raised by the latter camp.

Judi Rever
Judi Rever

This is a guest post by Judi Rever, a Montreal-based journalist who has reported extensively in Africa and is now working on a book about war crimes in Rwanda.

Rever recently wrote about her research for Foreign Policy Journal and, below for Humanosphere, makes the case for the West to adopt a more realistic – less simplistic and celebratory – view of Rwanda and Paul Kagame’s government.

It was New Year’s Day when the body of a Rwandan dissident was found at a luxury hotel in South Africa.

Patrick Karegeya, a former spy chief for President Paul Kagame, was apparently strangled. The chilling symbolism of his death – a critical voice forever gagged – sent another wave of terror among Rwandans that dare to speak out against a man whose political reach is nothing short of astonishing.

Rwanda’s opposition has cried foul, but skeptics have said it is premature to point to a culprit before South African police complete an investigation. Human Rights Watch cautiously concurred, yet conceded there has a been a pattern of attacks, assassinations and attempted assassinations against Rwandan dissidents abroad that is ‘extremely alarming.’

Only a handful of Western critics are willing to be blunt about the force behind the targeted killings of Rwandan dissidents.

“There is no place that Kagame would not strike. And he does it so bare-faced,” concludes Stephen Smith, a formerly journalist with the French newspapers Le Monde and Liberation, who now teaches at Duke University in North Carolina. Smith appears in the trailer of a new film called the Rwanda Gambit by Andre Vltchek.

“Any Mobutu or Idi Amin Dada looks like an apprentice in comparison,” Smith says of the former dictators of Zaire and Uganda. “Because at least they had sort of red lines they would not cross.”

“You would not try to kill someone once, miss him and try it again going through official embassy people. You would not kill an opposition figure in London, Paris or New York. You would just wait for them at the very minimum to be in Kinshasa,” Smith added.

Karegeya’s murder in Johannesburg has cast a long shadow over the legacy of Kagame  — a hitherto poster boy for international development aid and a former rebel leader credited with halting the 1994 genocide by Hutu extremists against the country’s minority Tutsi. Continue reading

Gay sex illegal again, rules Indian court | 

Indian rights activists react to the Supreme Court decision to uphold a law banning gay sex.
Indian rights activists react to the Supreme Court decision to uphold a law banning gay sex.

Sex between two same-sex partners is again illegal in India.

The Supreme Court reversed a four year old decision by the nation’s High Court that decriminalized consensual same-sex activity between adults. Amnesty International India described the news as a “black day for freedom in India.”

The decision is a major setback for gay rights activists in India.

“I feel so exhausted right now thinking we are being set back by 100 years. . . . I think it’s pathetic and sad,” said Naz Foundation founder Anjali Gopalan. Continue reading