In the Shadows of Democracy: LGBTIQ Rights in Uganda

April 30, 2015
04:00 pm - 05:30 pm

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004


Pepe Julian Onziema
Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

moderated by

Wade McMullen
RFK Human Rights

With introductory remarks by

Zerxes Spencer
International Forum for Democratic Studies

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About the Event

In a human rights situation that has captured global attention, a majority of African countries have anti-homosexuality laws in place, some of which go so far as to punish offenders with life imprisonment or the death penalty. The Ugandan government, in particular, has faced widespread criticism for its passage in 2009 of an anti-homosexuality bill and the violence against sexual minorities that ensued. Yet the question of African legal discrimination against LGBTIQ citizens also carries an international component: there is no verifiable record of African laws against homosexuality predating colonization. Yet the values promoted by these colonial laws were internalized over the years as inherently African and their source was forgotten. In a cruel twist of history, current leaders across the continent now view promotion of LGBTIQ rights as a tool of neo-colonialism. In his presentation, Pepe Julian Onziema analyzed the socio-economic changes in Africa, and Uganda in particular, that have accompanied the rise of homophobia and transphobia. He provided recommendations for a locally rooted movement to protect LGBTIQ citizens and empower them to claim full citizenship. His presentation was followed by comments by Wade McMullen.

About the Speakers

Pepe Julian Onziema is program director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an advocacy network based in Kampala that works to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning (LGBTIQ) rights organizations across Uganda. A transgender human rights defender who has been working to strengthen the rights of sexual and gender minorities over the past seven years, Mr. Onziema serves as the LGBTI focal person on the steering committee of the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network, speaking out on LGBTI issues at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council. In 2012, he was awarded the Clinton Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Civil Society for his pioneering work advocating for LGBTI welfare, and also received Stonewall’s “Hero of the Year” award in 2014. During his fellowship, Mr. Onziema is exploring ways in which to increase citizens’ awareness of the Ugandan Constitution and Bill of Rights, with a view to enhancing their participation in democratic governance and respect for all human rights.

Wade McMullen is the staff attorney for Partners for Human Rights at RFK Human Rights.