Thursday - October 25, 2018

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus


(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)



CARTOON: Peter Broelman, Australia/BROELMAN.com.au)




Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in homosexuality (2)


Victory in Uganda Amidst Worsening Human Rights Situation (PERSPECTIVE)

By Sarah Gunther

Friday marked a victory for human rights activists in Uganda and the rest of the world, when its Parliament ended its session without voting on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. 

The proposed bill was an unprecedented and unconstitutional attack on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans gender and inter sex (LGBTI) community - and on Uganda’s citizenry at large. It would have criminalized the “promotion of homosexuality,” including the provision of health and other essential services to LGBTI people, with three years in prison, and punished “aggravated homosexuality,” which entails homosexual acts by “serial offenders” and those who are HIV positive with the death penalty.

It was no coincidence that the Ugandan parliament galvanized new energy to pass the bill last week, at a time when Ugandan citizens are protesting high food and fuel prices and the government is cracking down with violence, repression and disregard for the rule of law.

In fact, the renewed push to pass the bill during the last week of parliament was a blatant political tactic to divert attention from the deteriorating human rights situation affecting all Ugandans. Over the past month, President Yoweri Museveni has responded to peaceful protests over sky-rocketing commodity prices by arresting opposition leaders, teargassing bystanders and using live ammunition on crowds.

According to Human Rights Watch, Ugandan security forces have killed at least nine unarmed people during the protests, including three in the back as they fled.

Beyond this crackdown, Museveni’s government has done little to respond to the expressed needs of its citizens, who can’t afford food or other basic needs. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was nothing more than a hateful diversion.

There’s no question that the bill would have passed if it came to a floor vote. Museveni has publicly stated that he would veto the bill, but his government’s conduct of late makes it clear that he has no problem violating human rights to maintain power. Passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and pandering to the country’s hateful climate for LGBTI people would have garnered Museveni increased public approval at a time when he desperately needs it.

Uganda is a sovereign country and has the right to govern its own affairs. But the international community must not stand by while a repressive government opens fire on its people for peacefully protesting—and considers legislation that forces a mother, teacher or doctor to report her daughter, student or patient to the police simply for being who he or she is.

We must remain vigilant when the next session of Uganda’s parliament opens on May 18th, as it is likely, if not probable, that the bill will be re-introduced.

When I woke up on Friday to the amazing news that the bill had been defeated, at least for now, I started thinking about what made it possible and what lessons we might extrapolate for the human rights work that my organization, American Jewish World Service, supports around the world.

First, activists in Uganda built a remarkable coalition of organizations working in different sectors—human rights, HIV/AIDS, women’s rights, refugee rights, labor rights, LGBTI rights, and the list goes on. The notion that LGBTI Ugandans deserve the same rights as all Ugandans was not an uncontested idea in Ugandan civil society in October 2009 when the bill was first introduced. Building a coalition was no easy feat. But 28 organizations came together on the premise that LGBTI rights are not special, different or extra: they are human rights.

The victory in Uganda would not have been possible if LGBTI activists had been the only voices opposing the bill. Speaking from multiple perspectives, the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law made the argument that the bill was unconstitutional, violated best practices in public health, and undermined civil liberties. The win underlines the importance of building social movements that transcend narrow identity-based rights claims and can gain new allies as a result. Activists in Uganda have shown us what that can look like.

In addition to local organizing, there’s no doubt that international activism played a critical role in killing the bill. In just the past few week, e-petitions from organizations like AllOut gathered millions of signatures, and domestic pressure in the U.S. and Europe encouraged dozens of legislators and government representatives to speak out against the legislation.

What’s been encouraging to me in the last week—in contrast to past moments during the nearly two-year fight to kill the bill—is the degree to which international actors took their lead from Ugandan activists. The Civil Society Coalition offered strategic guidance to advocacy organizations in the West, providing context by sharing its broader critique of the human rights crisis in Uganda, and helping us avoid playing into the government’s use of the bill as a distraction from its violence and repression.

AJWS believes that grassroots communities are best placed to envision, articulate and carry forward their own visions and strategies for social change. In the struggle against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, it has been encouraging to see more and more international advocates respect the expertise and leadership of local activists in their own struggles.

There’s no question that the fight for human rights of LGBTI people in Uganda is far from over, and the country’s overall human rights situation is worsening with no end in sight. But victories are few and far between. This one is certainly worth savoring.

Sarah Gunther is the associate director of grants for Africa at American Jewish World Service, where she oversees a human rights grantmaking program with a focus on LGBTI communities in Uganda.



Gays in Africa: Only Protected on Paper (PERSPECTIVE)

Credit: The Red Room.orgBy Richard Pithouse

(HN, March 29, 2011) - It’s now almost three months since David Kato, a former teacher and a leading Ugandan gay rights activist, was beaten to death in Mukono Town in Uganda.

Kato was living in Johannesburg in the salad days of our new democracy and, inspired by the progress made here in recognising the legal right of gay people to an equal humanity, he became a key figure in the Ugandan movement when he returned home in 1998.

Homosexuality was first criminalised in Uganda in the 19th century under the British colonial occupation. That criminalisation of a mode of expressing love and desire that is part of all human communities across space and time was sustained and updated after independence in 1962. As the new century unfolded there were active attempts, often driven by senior politicians and clerics with the support of an increasingly rabid tabloid press, to create a popular moral panic about homosexuality.

Public vilification escalated and there were threats, calls for further state repression, censorship of gay people and organisations and a further tightening of a legal regime already so repressive that it carried a sentence of life imprisonment for certain forms of gay sex.

Of course the vilification of gay people by political elites was not unique to Uganda. In Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe’s public hostility stretched back to 1987 but reached a new level of intensity following his verbal attack on gay people at a book fair in Harare in 1996.

In Namibia Sam Nujoma began a campaign of demonization in 1995, the former Kenyan dictator Daniel arap Moi launched his first major attack in 1999 and here in South Africa Jacob Zuma made extreme homophobic comments on Heritage Day in 2006. In the same year Olusegun Obasanjo introduced a bill that aimed to further criminalise homosexuality in Nigeria.

The sobering reality is that homosexuality is illegal for men in 29 African countries and for women in 20 African countries. But while it is essential to take this reality seriously, it is equally important to put African homophobia in a global context - homosexuality is illegal in 80 countries across the world and in many countries where there is not a repressive legal regime discrimination and harassment remain rife. In 2009 Ian Banyham, a gay man in his 60s, was beaten to death by two young women in Trafalgar Square in central London. In California the right of same sex couples to marry was affirmed in June 2008 and overturned by a right wing campaign five months later.

But we do need to take the active mobilisation of homophobic sentiment by political leaders in our region seriously. The scapegoating of vulnerable minorities is a standard tactic used by political elites to deflect attention away from their own failures and compromises. And the masculinisation of politics that usually accompanies elite driven homophobia can be used to offer ordinary men some power and status amidst the wreckage of societies that offer no real hope for a decent life to most people.

The situation in Uganda is particular serious. In 2002 two women were arrested after the tabloid newspaper Red Pepper reported, hysterically, on their wedding. Their pastor had to flee the country. Four years latter the paper published a list of the names, workplaces and other information on 45 men it claimed where homosexuals. Many of these men were threatened and harassed.

In October 2009 Ugandan MP David Bahati introduced the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill which aimed to extend the criminalization of same-sex relationships and to introduce the death penalty for certain acts, to force Ugandan citizens to report any homosexual activity within 24 hours or face three years in jail, and to authorise the Ugandan state to extradite  its citizens having same-sex relationships outside the country.

In October last year the Rolling Stone , a tabloid newspaper, published names, photographs and addresses of 100 people it claimed were gay, including David Kato, along with a call for their execution. Kato and other activists took the newspaper to court and won the case in November. The newspaper was ordered to stop outing people and to pay compensation to the plaintiffs. Two months later Kato was attacked in his home by a man who smashed a hammer into his head twice and left him dead. Former Anglican Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo, excommunicated for his principled rejection of homophobia, officiated at a tense political funeral. There is, at the moment, no certainty about who killed Kato and why, but in view of the way in which gay people have been vilified in Uganda, and his courage in opposing this, activists fear the worst and have been calling for a serious and credible investigation.

Here in South Africa our Constitution and our law offer some of the best legal recognition of the equal humanity of gay people and other sexual minorities in the world. We also have a vibrant gay movement and many straight people of real stature, like Desmond Tutu, who take an active and principled position on this issue.

But we have a President who has made his contempt for gay people clear. He did, under some pressure, and without the appearance of much conviction, go through the motion of condemning the arrest of a gay couple in Malawi. But his silence on this issue in the region has more usually been eloquently damning. In the religious sphere he has sought to shift the centre of political gravity from the progressive churches that opposed apartheid to towards the right wing and openly homophobic agenda of Ray McCauly and the National Interfaith Leadership Council. And, incredibly, he dispatched the notoriously and crudely homophobic Jon Qwelane to Uganda as the South African ambassador. And of course Zuma is not the only homophobe amongst our political elite. In March last year the then Minister of Arts and Culture, Lulu Xingwana, stormed out of an art exhibition at Constitutional Hill claiming that photographs of black lesbian couples by Zanele Muholi were “going against nation building.”

Muholi has documented more than 50 cases of violent hates crimes against black lesbians living in townships. Half of these women were raped and some of them killed. In 2006 Zoliswa Nkonyana was stoned to death by a mob of young men in Khayetlisha for being an “out” lesbian. Sizakele Sigasa, a lesbian activist, and her partner Salome Masooa were raped, tortured, and murdered in Meadowlands, Soweto in 2007. In the same year Thokozane Qwabe was found murdered in Ezakheni, Ladysmith and Simangele Nhlapo and her two year old daughter were raped and murdered and sixteen year old Madoe Mafubedu was raped and stabbed to death in Soweto. Eudy Simelane, who played soccer for the national side, was raped and killed in KwaThema, Springs in 2008. It is this reality and not the fact that some women find love and share desire with other women that is perverse.

Muholi’s photographs aim to “create a body of meaning that is welcomed by us as a community of queer black women” and to “ensure that those who come after us have ‘eyes to see’ the beautiful black marks of our existence and resistance.” Her work is entirely within the spirit of the Constitution. Xingwana’s comments were entirely opposed to the letter and spirit of that document which, what ever its limitations, certainly does reflect some of the aspirations to have come out of the best moments of the struggles against apartheid. But as much as it reflects some of those aspirations in principle the reality is that, as Muholi argues, in practice black lesbians are “only protected on paper.”

Legal activism is important and reaching agreements with states on commitments to human rights does sometimes offer a useful yardstick against which to measure the actions of governments and to leverage pressure against them. But the professionalization of activism after apartheid has led too many of us to accept that this should be the horizon of our commitment or that activism should be the preserve of NGO professionals. 

To have any hope of meeting the challenges of our times we need an embodied and popular practice of active, direct and practical solidarity premised on an ethic of immediate equality. We also need to develop an emancipatory vision for a society that can offer a dignified life for everyone, and a strategy to make real progress towards that vision. Right now this is not something that we can vote for. It is something that we have to work for and, when necessary, fight for, where we live, work, play and pray.

Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University. This article first appeared on the website of the South African Civil Society Information Service - SACSIS