A member of staff of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) Africa regional office in Johannesburg was assaulted by Ugandan police on Friday as she was trying to enter an event at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kampala, Uganda.
Victor Juliet Mukasa, a leading Ugandan LGBT human rights activist, who was appointed to her IGLHRC post last month, was trying to gain access to the “People’s Space” at CHOGM.
The People’s Space was designed “to provide opportunities to share in the diversity and richness of the Commonwealth people” and was specifically designated as a space open to all people. It was intended to give people “renewed energy to facilitate social change with a clear sense of building the future together.”
According to Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a group she co-founded, Ms. Mukasa, a transgender lesbian, was among those wanting to make a presentation in the People’s Space. When faced with opposition from the police, she stood her ground and declared: “I am not moving a single step from this place.”
Mukasa was then reportedly assaulted by the police: “They threw me down,” she told SMUG. “Those who came back to help me from the ground faced it tough. One person was caned for doing so.”
Other Ugandan and Kenyan lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) speakers scheduled to give their addresses at the CHOGM Speaker’s Corner left fearing violence from the police and waiting for seven hours to be given entrance to the People’s Space.
“The LGBT speakers remained standing outside the gate in quiet protest, waiting to be allowed back in to deliver their speeches. They were there for a total of seven hours. What was supposed to be one of the greatest [opportunities] for free speech has become a disappointment and an embarrassing case of discrimination for Uganda,” SMUG said.
The biennial conference sees the heads of 53 countries, which are former British colonies, gathering to discuss various issues, including, ironically, human rights. On Friday, Queen Elizabeth II’s opening of CHOGM was followed by peaceful protests by religious groups against the granting of rights to gays and lesbians in Uganda.
Western countries were accused by the protesters of spreading homosexuality in Africa. “We are living in a global village as Commonwealth member states. Developed countries in the Commonwealth legalised homosexuality and influenced the poor states,” said the Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality in Uganda in a statement.
The statement added, “We are telling the Queen that by embracing homosexuality, we shall not have kings and queens.”