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In March 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit against U.S citizen Scott Lively, on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda(SMUG) - an umbrella organization for LGBTI rights groups in Uganda – over Lively’s role in inciting persecution against Ugandans’ sexual orientation and gender identity. This landmark case will soon go to trial in the U.S.
Same-sex relationships are currently criminalized under the Penal Code in Uganda, where LGBTI activists are constantly harassed and on alert. Prominent Ugandan activist, David Kato, was murdered in early 2011 after his name was published in the Ugandan ‘Rolling Stone’ Magazine in a list of 100 ‘known gays and lesbians’ under the header “Hang them”. His murder increased international attention to the controversial draft anti-homosexuality Bill, which was first introduced in 2009 and is still in Ugandan Parliament at Committee level. If adopted, the Bill would increase and broaden the penalties for same-sex relationships. This includes the death penalty in some cases, and penalising the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, which would seriously disrupt human rights work. Ugandan Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are already constantly harassed and have meetings disrupted, as outlined by Human Rights Watch, who say that, “government officials at both the national and local levels have deployed an array of tactics to intimidate and obstruct the work of NGOs in certain sectors… [In particular] the office of the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity has been leading Uganda’s aggressively homophobic agenda and violating NGOs’ rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.”
The exportation of a destructive and defamatory discourse against LGBTI persons
At the heart of the CCR case is Christian fundamentalism, personified by United States (U.S.) Pastor Scott Lively who is President of the right-wing, Christian ‘Abiding Truth Ministries’. Lively regularly and publicly denounces homosexuality – going so far as to preach that “the rise of the homosexual movement is a sign of the end times”. Lively is also active in Russia, where ‘anti-gay’ legislation was recently passed. Speaking on a U.S radio program last month, Lively is quoted as saying that he indirectly assisted in the new Law being passed in Russia, and that it is “one of the proudest achievements of my career”.
The CCR’s case against Lively frames his participation in the drafting of the controversial anti-homosexuality Bill in Uganda and alleges “that Lively’s actions over the past decade, in collaboration with key Ugandan government officials and religious leaders, are responsible for depriving LGBTI Ugandans of their fundamental human rights based solely on their identity, which is the definition of persecution under international law and is deemed a crime against humanity.”
The case is an example of the protracted campaign of persecution against LGBTI persons in Uganda - and in particular the significant role that Christian fundamentalist groups from the U.S. have played in exporting a destructive and defamatory discourse against LGBTI persons. Lively is accused of travelling to Uganda and meeting with influential political actors since 2002 to influence the anti-gay agenda there. Hosted by the Family Life Network– a Ugandan religious organization that Amnesty International says “work closely with U.S evangelicals” - Lively led a three-day conference called “Seminar on exposing the homosexual agenda” in Uganda, which was attended by religious and government officials, police officers and members of civil society. A CCR case Fact Sheet summarises his involvement:
“Lively has set out a methodology for stripping away the most basic human rights protections, to silence and ultimately disappear LGBTI persons from public life, through eliminating any political space, revoking their fundamental rights, and/or coercing them into conversion “therapy.”
Lively’s actions of inciting hatred are now catching up with him, thanks to SMUG and CCR. On August 14, 2013, a Federal Judge in the U.S. denied Lively’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which means the case will now go to trial.
SMUG’s Executive Director Frank Mugisha, told the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) recently, that he is hopeful, as this is the third motion to be denied: “I am very optimistic about the case, but this is not about winning a case in court, it is about holding extreme Christians accountable for their actions, and creating attention around the spread of homophobia and stopping them. Of course the best would be to win the case and get Scott Lively to say sorry and [to] stop spreading hate.”
Mugisha says the case sends “a very clear message that LGBTI rights are human rights and internationally recognized… The government’s response to persecution of LGBTI people has been that LGBTI persons are not persecuted, and this is dangerous because the government does not take the levels of persecution seriously hence [there is a] failure to create measures to protect LGBTI persons from hate crimes… the impact [of this case] will be huge as Ugandans will start to take LGBTI rights very seriously and treat LGBTI people equally. [They will] also be careful of some Christians and the message they bring to Uganda.”
Research assistance by Rochelle Jones