Ugandan Embassy: We Protect Gay Citizens
After more than a week of calling and emailing Mr. Charles Ssentongo, second in command at the Ugandan embassy in Washington, I finally got him on the phone this morning for a ten-minute conversation.
I asked what his government is doing to protect the human rights and safety of gays and he assured me Uganda doesn't discriminate in treating all citizens equally. When I replied that reports from gays in Uganda reveal deep concerns over their personal safety, Mr. Ssentongo said his government enforces civil liberties for all people.
He mentioned recent public news conferences by SMUG, Sexual Minorities of Uganda, as proof of tolerance for gays. The press conferences were certainly a step forward, I said, but grounded in fear by the gays, some of whom wore masks to protect their identities.
In his opinion, the Red Pepper likes to inflame lots of situations and people, including people in the government and it's a sign of mature political democracy in action, after the hell Uganda has been through, that a tabloid can publish without government interference.
I requested a written summary affirming Uganda's commitment to its gay citizens, and he promised to email it to me, but stressed it may take a while because his computer was hit by a virus last week.
This exercise in political advocacy -- calling the embassy, emailing them, leaving detailed voice mail messages, speaking to the difference secretaries and other staffers -- may not be a big gesture to bring immediate help to gay Ugandans.
But just flexing American gay global political muscle with one government's embassy in Washington, making them deal with our concerns just because they have to listen to me and my messages, is a small step, an important one really, in keeping pressure on foreign governments.
As I wrote this post, Mr. Ssentongo sent the summary, written in diplomat-ese, that doesn't once say the word gay, which is disappointing, but I'm still quite pleased he took the time to keep his promise and I remain in solidarity with gay Ugandans.
This was our written exchange today:
In a message dated 9/24/2007 10:41:15 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, Cssentongo@ugandaembassyus.org writes:
Thank for your email regarding a recent article by the Red pepper newspaper published in Uganda.
The government of Uganda guarantees the fundamental rights of all its citizens as enshrined in its constitution.
Freedom of speech and expression, the cornerstone of our young democracy are being exercised through an uncensored free press where all shades of opinions are expressed.
The Red pepper is one of the tabloids in Uganda which has taken advantage of this platform to express different opinions on a wide range of subjects and issues in the Uganda society including matters of faith, politics, sexuality, and daily social life among others.
On a number of occasions, individuals, groups of citizens and government where they have felt misrepresented or offended by this or any other publication they have taken the cases to courts of law or the media council.
I wish to assure you that our government is committed to ensuring the protection and safety of all its citizens in accordance with the laws of Uganda.
Charles Ssentongo-----Original Message-----
Sent 9/24/2007 7:49:28 AM
Subject: Ugandan government and gay people
Hello Mr. Ssentongo,
It was good to have a productive conversation with you this morning. I hope you will keep your stated promise to provide me with a summary of how your government protects the human rights and safety of gay Ugandans.
San Francisco, CA