Monday, January 11, 2016

US has sovereign right not to fund extremist religious hatrade, bigotry

In 2014, members of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda congratulate President Yoweri Museveni on signing the nation’s short-lived Anti-Homosexuality Act in a special celebration they organized to mark the event. This letter is in response to the December 20 article entitled: “U.S. Support of Gay Rights in Africa May Have Done More Harm than Good.” While it may be true that some Nigerian LGBTI activists may be under pressure as a result of the US government policy to link foreign aid to the support for gay rights in African countries, the writer fails to highlight the successes of US foreign aid. Uganda has one of the harshest environments in the world for gay or alleged gay persons. The US government’s new pivot to public support for gay rights is the right foreign policy direction. The United States contributes more than 70% of Uganda’s National HIV/AIDS response through its PEPFAR [President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] program. The PEPFAR program has succeeded in making reforms at country level and in Washington to focus on fighting the pandemic, not the people based on their sexual orientations, gender identity or expression. Since PEPFAR shifted its funding toward supporting LGBTI and other highly HIV-burdened and underserved communities, it is the first time ever in the history of PEPFAR that beneficiaries, especially LGBTI people bearing the brunt of the pandemic resulting from years of their own countries neglect, are accessing care, treatment and support. It is the first time ever a publicly self-identifying queer person is representing fellow LGBTI persons on the Global Fund Board in Uganda, influencing public health programmes. On December 17, Ugandan gay community made an unprecedented move at a gala dinner organized by Sexual Minorities Uganda in Kampala to publicly thank the Ugandan government for making health accessible to everyone without discrimination. The gay community also honored publicly U.S. diplomats posted to Kampala Mission and people who have openly spoken out against hatred. It’s true that both Nigeria and Uganda are sovereign independent nations with a mandate to draft their own laws to govern their people. However, these laws should conform to state obligations under International Human Rights Laws and protocols adhered to by both countries that advance human dignity. Such laws should also be in line with ordinary people’s aspirations to live in a free and democratic societies. The anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria, and a wave of similar such laws/bills across the continent fueled by American evangelical Christian individuals and institutions, cannot replace the will of African people— to live in peace, unity and dignity. Besides, while those sovereign African countries do exercise their independence and autonomy, the United States is also an autonomous nation with a right to comment on injustices, inhumane treatment of people overseas in bilateral partner countries. Gay persecution, murder, intimidation, torture and cruel inhumane treatment subjected to African gay people for being who they are not United States values; neither are they Christian values. The United States also has a right to make it clear that U.S. taxpayers’ federal dollars in support of human well-being overseas, also supports human dignity. African homosexuals must be treated like any other human being in Africa. The U.S. has the sovereign right to deny funding to groups that wage a war of death, murder, persecution on African LGBTI people. The article [in the New York Times] quotes Rev. George Ehusani, former Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, suggesting that Nigerian Catholic charities had stopped applying for American government grants that promote gay rights. This is exactly what should be. People promoting murder and persecution, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, should not qualify for U.S. federal dollars. African LGBTI people are rising up. It is not true as Rev. Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, suggests in your article, that African LGBTI activists are caught up in a U.S. culture war. More accurately, we are shedding an importation of homophobia and bigotry from Britain in its 19th century Penal Code, copied and pasted into African British colonial law books. As a citizen of Zambia, a former British colony, Rev. Kaoma is well aware that many African pre-colonial societies never persecuted, humiliated nor murdered gay people as the Europeans did. Take the ill-fated example of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), a consortium of all religious groups in Uganda to promote peace, reconciliation, and good governance. This institution, bringing together Catholics, Muslims, Adventists and Evangelical worshipers, has been a recipient of US government federal funds to fight HIV/AIDS — until recently, when the US withheld its funds and redirected them to other institutions. For quite some time, leaders of these faiths have been at the forefront of pushing for mass murder of Ugandan homosexuals. They actively supported the passage of the now annulled Anti Homosexuality Act 2014 in Uganda, including calls to imprison all homosexuals on an island in Lake Victoria. Members of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda congratulate President Yoweri Museveni on signing the nation's short-lived Anti-Homosexuality Act in a special celebration they organized to mark the event. In 2014, members of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda congratulate President Yoweri Museveni on signing the nation’s short-lived Anti-Homosexuality Act in a special celebration they organized to mark the event. The IRCU’s influence was a result of U.S. federal-funding-caused gross failures in Uganda’s National HIV/AIDS response. There is now a realization that such lack of a human-rights-based approach cannot work in the fight against HIV. In Uganda, more than 70% of national health output is met by faith-based or -linked medical institutions. In some remote areas, there are not government-supported health facilities at all, apart from those run by the church. Yet, IRCU leadership continued its faith-based policy and discrimination among patients attending its U.S.-supported health infrastructure by denying condoms distribution or HIV prevention interventions and care services. Rather than supporting the likes of IRCU — groups striving to normalize and further institutionalize LGBTI persecution — African countries and Washington allies should continue to embrace human rights, and human dignity for all. The USD $700 million, mentioned in the article, helps draw attention and redress the danger and neglect we suffer at the hands of our governments and religious institutions. It also must be clarified that the $700 m was not only in the service of LGBTI people; rather it was allocated to all populations highly burdened by HIV and traditionally underserved. The U.S. funding shift away from bigotry and toward support for HIV programs serving LGBTI and other vulnerable communities is a lifeline, not a liability

Monday, January 12, 2015

Egypt student gets 3-year jail term for atheism

AN Egyptian court has sentenced a student to three years in jail for announcing on Facebook that he is an atheist and for insulting Islam, his lawyer said Sunday. Karim al-Banna, a 21-year-old whose own father testified against him, was jailed by a court in the Nile Delta province of Baheira on Saturday, lawyer Ahmed Abdel Nabi told AFP. "He was handed down a three-year prison sentence, and if he pays a bail of 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($ 140 or 117 euros) the sentence can be suspended until a verdict is issued by an appeals court," Abdel Nabi said, adding that an appeal was to be heard on March 9. Abdel Nabi said his client's father had testified against his son, charging that he "was embracing extremist ideas against Islam". Banna's name had appeared in a list of known atheists in a local daily after which his neighbours harassed him, said Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher on religion and beliefs at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. When Banna went to file a complaint against them at a police station, he was accused of insulting Islam and arrested, said Ibrahim, who has been tracking Banna's case. Banna has been in custody since November. In December 2012, a 27-year-old blogger, Alber Saber, was sentenced to three years in jail on charges of blasphemy. And last June, a Coptic Christian man was sentenced to six years in jail for insulting Islam. The authorities have stepped up measures, including organising workshops, to counter atheism. Egypt's constitution outlaws insults against the three recognised monotheist religions -- Islam, Christianity and Judaism. AFP

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Manifesto for Secularism - Against the Religious Right

The author of Uganda's kill-the-gays law, Mr David Bahati being 'blessed' by nasty fanatical homophobes before introducing the anti homosexuality bill in Ugandan Parliament
Secularism is vital for the defence of democracy, equality & human rights London, UK - 14 October 2014 The launch of the Manifesto for Secularism is a challenge to the global rise of the Religious Right and its menacing values, which threaten women, LGBTs, atheists, minority faiths, apostates and many others,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation. “Secularism - the separation of religion and the state - is a vital precondition for democracy, equality and human rights. It protects people of all faiths and none; creating a level playing field where no religion has legal privilege and no faith can abuse its influence to victimise people of different beliefs. “Wherever religion has political power, human rights are attacked and restricted - as in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Even when religion has little or no formal political power, such as in the UK and US, the Religious Right has often sabotaged women’s reproductive rights and equality for LGBT people. “Last weekend, 250 delegates gathered in London for the international secularism conference. Many of them were from developing countries and some of them were Muslims or ex-Muslims. Most delegates and speakers were women. Some had suffered state persecution or violent abuse in the name of religion. Examples of people murdered by theocratic states and religious fanatics were read out; followed by a minute’s silence. “The conference went ahead despite threats made to the organisers and the conference hotel; as well as despite sustained cyber attacks which took down the conference website “Delegates expressed strong support for the Kurdish people’s democratic, secular struggle against the clerical fascism of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, with many urging international aid to help the Kurds defend Kobane,” said Mr Tatchell, who attended and spoke at the conference and conveyed a message of support to the Kurdish solidarity rally in London on 11 October. The Manifesto and signatories can be accessed online: .The full text follows below. The Manifesto for Secularism: Our era is marked by the rise of the religious-Right – not because of a “religious revival” but rather due to the rise of far-Right political movements and states using religion for political supremacy. This rise is a direct consequence of neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism and the social policies of communalism and cultural relativism. Universalism, secularism and citizenship rights have been abandoned and segregation of societies and “communities” based on ethnicity, religion and culture have become the norm. The Islamic State (formerly ISIS), the Saudi regime, Hindutva (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) in India, the Christian-Right in the US and Europe, Bodu Bala Sena in Sri Lanka, Haredim in Israel, AQMI and MUJAO in Mali, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria are examples of this. For many decades now, people in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the Diaspora have been the first victims but also on the frontlines of resistance against the religious-Right (whether religious states, organisations and movements) and in defence of secularism and universal rights, often at great risk to their lives. We call on people everywhere to stand with us to establish an international front against the religious-Right and for secularism. We demand: 1. Complete separation of religion from the state. Secularism is a fundamental right. 2. Separation of religion from public policy, including the educational system, health care and scientific research. 3. Abolition of religious laws in the family, civil and criminal codes. An end to discrimination against and persecution of LGBT, religious minorities, women, freethinkers, ex-Muslims and others. 4. Freedom of religion and atheism and freedom to criticise religions. Belief as a private affair. 5. Equality between women and men and citizenship rights for all. Signatories 1. Aliyah Saleem, Secular education campaigner 2. Amel Grami, Professor, Tunisian University of Manouba 3. Bahram Soroush, Social and political analyst 4. Ben Baz Aziz, Presenter at Arab Atheist broadcasting 5. A. C. Grayling, Philosopher 6. Caroline Fourest, French writer and editor 7. Chris Moos, LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society 8. Chulani Kodikara, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Sri Lanka 9. Elham Manea, Yemeni writer and human rights activist 10. Faizun Zackariya, Citizens for Justice, Sri Lanka 11. Fariborz Pooya, Host of Bread and Roses TV 12. Fatou Sow, International Director of Women Living Under Muslim Laws 13. Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space 14. Hamid Taqvaee, Secretary, Central Committee of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran 15. Horia Mosadiq, Human rights and women’s rights activist from Afghanistan 16. Imad Iddine Habib, Founder of Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco 17. Inna Shevchenko, Leader of FEMEN 18. Julie Bindel, Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize and Justice for Women 19. Kate Smurthwaite, Comedian and activist 20. Kiran Opal, Writer, LGBTQ & human rights campaigner, Co-founder Ex-Muslims of North America 21. Lila Ghobady, Iranian writer-journalist and documentary filmmaker 22. Magdulien Abaida, Libyan activist and President of Hakki (My Right) Organisation for Women Rights 23. Marieme Helie Lucas, Algerian activist, founder of Secularism is a Woman’s Issue 24. Maryam Namazie, Iranian spokesperson for One Law for All, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Fitnah 25. Nadia El Fani, Tunisian filmmaker 26. Nahla Mahmoud, Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain 27. Nina Sankari, Vice-President of the Atheist Coalition, Poland 28. Nira Yuval-Davis, a founder member of Women Against Fundamentalism and the International Research Network on Women in Militarized Conflict Zones 29. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Pakistani Nuclear Physicist and Social Activist 30. Peter Tatchell, Director of Peter Tatchell Foundation 31. Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters 32. Ramin Forghani, Founder of Ex-Muslims of Scotland 33. Rumy Hassan, Senior Lecturer at University of Sussex and author 34. Sameena Zehra, comedian and blues singer 35. Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International 36. Soad Baba Aissa, Founder of the Association for Mixing, Equality and Secularism 37. Sue Cox, Founder of Survivors Voice Europe 38. Sultana Kamal, Lawyer, human rights activist and Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra in Bangladesh 39. Taslima Nasrin, Bangladeshi writer and activist 40. Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society 41. Yasmin Rehman, Women’s rights activist


A documentary on gay sexuality in pre-colonial Africa, which aims to refute the belief that homosexuality is 'un-African', has premiered in Kampala. Behind the Mask reports that Gay Love in Pre-colonial Africa: The Untold Story of Ugandan Martyrs, produced by the Uganda Health and Science Press Association (UHSPA Uganda), was recently screened in the capital. The launch of the film was timed with the June 3 public holiday commemorating the killing of the Ugandan martyrs. The martyrs were a group of Catholic missionaries and converts executed between 1885 and 1887 by King Mwanga II, sometimes described as Uganda’s gay king. The king, who it was claimed had sex with his male pages, is reputed to have killed the martyrs when they tried to convert him to Christianity and criticised his “debauchery” and his “addiction to sodomy”. According to Behind the Mask, the film interviews people from inside the Mwanga palace, "where traces of tolerance to homosexuals is still preserved today". It also explores the traditional covenants, referred to as ‘okutta omukago’ (making covenants), made by same-sex couples to cement their relationships. The film notes that most of gay pre-colonial history in Africa has been lost and what was recorded was done so by European colonisers and missionaries. UHSPA Uganda Director Kikonyogo Kivumbi said at the screening that he hopes that the film will add a new perspective to the struggle for gay equality in Uganda.

U.S. Funding Choices Are Challenged In The Wake Of Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law

This article first appeared here: Early last month, as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni weighed signing a brutal new anti-LGBT bill into law, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (ICRU) published a statement urging religious leaders in the country to “highlight the dangers of homosexuality and lesbianism.” It told them to “champion the campaign against foreign influences that undermine moral heritage in the guise of human rights and freedoms,” in the statement, published in the Uganda Daily Monitor and read by thousands. Support from the organization and its affiliated church leaders — including the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, and other major denominations — gave it moral legitimacy. At the same time, the group has received millions in U.S. government grants for years to fight HIV. Why was the money going to a key supporter of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which the the U.S. government has officially opposed? “I cannot understand the thinking within the State Department and PEPFAR” in continuing to provide grants to the group, said Kikonyogo Kivumbi, executive director of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association, referring to the president’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). ICRU’s affiliates are important health care providers, and the organization received more than $3 million from PEPFAR in 2013. “There is a frustration on this side, that [U.S.] quiet diplomacy and engagement with IRCU is not doing enough to bring results,” Kivumbi said. U.S. government officials were aware of IRCU’s anti-LGBT advocacy dating back to at least 2012, according to emails provided by Kikonyongo and shared with USAID’s then-health director in Uganda Karen Klimowski and other officials at the State Department and CDC. The Council for Global Equality, which advocates for LGBT rights in U.S. foreign policy, has also been objecting to this funding since at least 2011, according to the organization’s senior adviser Julie Dorf. “The amount of money that our government has invested to support LGBT civil society pales in comparison with the millions we’ve spent funding homophobic [HIV program] implementors in Uganda, who actively advocated for further criminalization of LGBT civil society,” Dorf said. IRCU’s funding needs to be shut off, she continued — U.S. policy has to be able to account for when religious organizations go “from hating the sin to hating the sinner and actively working on fomenting anti-gay sentiment in a country.” Late last year, the inspector general at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) looked into concerns that PEPFAR funds were being used to promote Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and turned up nothing in its review that indicated PEPFAR dollars were supporting the organization’s advocacy for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, however it noted that it had not conducted a comprehensive audit. If the HIV money was not being diverted to this lobbying work, it had done nothing in violation of U.S. policy, it said. It further implied that the State Department could not cut off funding to a religious organization on the basis of its religiously motivated political advocacy. In keeping with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the report said, “a religious organization may continue to express its religious beliefs after it receives financial assistance.” But that wasn’t the only argument for continuing its funding, said a senior Obama administration official speaking on background in line with administration policy. If the U.S. government simply pulled IRCU’s funding, the official said, many HIV patients would suddenly be unable to get their medication. “What we’re talking about are tens of thousands of people receiving HIV treatment and care,” the official said. “We have a responsibility to ensure that those people continue to receive the lifesaving treatment they need. Cutting off aid would harm the people we’re seeking to help, which is why we’re looking at these issues thoughtfully and deliberately.” The U.S. is currently “taking a close look at how we can best support and protect the very LGBT populations the law seeks to discriminate against,” the official continued. The fact that IRCU continued to receive these funds is an indication of just how difficult it will be for the U.S. and other donor nations to “divert” funds to ensure LGBT people receive services in countries hostile to LGBT people. The problem is not new — more than half of the 88 countries supported by PEPFAR criminalize homosexuality, and in countries like Uganda and Nigeria, persecution is increasing. In these countries, there are no simple ways to redirect large amounts of money to providers who can effectively use them while providing safe and fair treatment to all patients. Only a very small portion of the more than $409 million in health care aid that the U.S. earmarked for Uganda in FY 2013 go to the government itself. And there really aren’t that many organizations that have the capacity to absorb millions of dollars and effectively deliver services in a nondiscriminatory fashion, especially in a place where there is as much hostility against LGBT people in a place like Uganda. This is part of the reason that human rights advocates disagree about how to respond to the IRCU. A coalition of Ugandan advocacy groups that has come together to oppose the law does not agree with the U.S. advocates who are calling for the IRCU’s funding to be shut off. “We DO NOT support cuts in support to NGO’s and other civil society institutions that offer life saving health services or other important social services to the People of Uganda,” the group said in a press release after the bill’s enactment. Given the IRCU’s reach, there’s not much choice but to try to insulate the organization’s health care functions from its religious leadership, Kivumbi said. Some parts of the country have no other providers beyond those affiliated with IRCU, he said. Even government clinics are scarce. Kivumbi said he would like to see the IRCU pressured to create an independent health secretariat within the group, but even that wouldn’t fully insulate health care workers from the attitudes of their religious leaders. “What you say from the pulpit affects service delivery,” he said. “It is not easy to understand how they will do it