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Uganda passes bill criminalising same-sex relationships and sex work | Global development

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The Ugandan parliament has passed a controversial sexual offences bill which further criminalises same-sex relationships and sex work.

The laws were passed by MPs this week, reiterating sections of legislation first enforced in the country by British colonial rule. They condemn same-sex couples who perform acts deemed against the “order of nature” to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The legislation consolidates previous rulings around child marriage and rape, and criminalises incest, sexual harassment, sex tourism and indecent communication.

“This bill consolidates all laws relating to sexual offences in Uganda. We are hoping that the bill is going to help us in the prevention of sexual violence, enhance punishment for sexual offenders and protection of victims during trials,” Monicah Amoding, the MP who proposed the bill, said. She defended the legal discrimination as supporting “societal values”.

“We are not yet ready for those [homosexual] rights. Maybe in future, as of now our society still views relationships, sex and marriage … as between a man and woman,” said Amoding.

“Those who are criticising us should wait for Uganda to grow up in that area. Our society hasn’t come of age to appreciate those rights that some parts of the world want us to do.”

But there was anger from activists. Frank Mugisha, director at Sexual Minorities Uganda said: “It is unfortunate that the parliament of Uganda is obsessed with legislating around people’s private lives. Such legislation is very hard to enforce. This will only increase the vulnerability of LGBT persons,” he said.

“This is yet another law that will be used by law enforcers to harass, blackmail and arrest LGBT persons. I also do not see the need, since same-sex relations are already criminalised in our penal code.”

The bill has been pending for more than a decade. In 2014, an attempt to make some homosexual acts punishable by death was declared “null and void” by a constitutional court.

Trisha Mugerwa, one of the feminist activists who had been working on drafting the bill with the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Forum, said: “Sadly, the bill gave and took away some. It’s one step forward, two steps backward.

“I am a feminist. We are happy and celebrate the efforts of everyone to ensure we have a gender responsive bill in the country. We have been struggling with it. We hoped it would provide a response to sexual offences which aren’t recognised in the penal code.

“It really gives us a basis through which we can now handle sexual offences in Uganda. We have now sexual harassments, cyber harassment, rape and aggravating factors being well defined.”

But she said the law, which now awaits the presidential assent, gave to one group of women and then oppressed another – lesbians and sex workers – and that she was disappointed MPs had removed clauses.

“It’s still dangerous. It’s a direct attack for people who are practising same-sex relationships and sexual minority groups,” said Mugerwa.

“It’s intrusive when it comes to women and persons practising sex work. We have been advocating for decriminalisation of the sex industry, and opting for regulation. So it’s a discussion that is still going and will take some time for us to get where we want to be.”

Campaigners expressed disappointment over MPs striking out progressive clauses, such as consent being required for a sexual act, which Joan Anena, project officer at Refugee Law Project, Makerere University, said was “key in elimination of sexual violence”.

“It provides a right to informed consent and to step out of any sexual activities that kill a person’s dignity and self-respect,” she said.

In a tweet, Sarah Kasande, a Kampala-based lawyer, said: “It is a discriminatory and regressive piece of legislation. It smuggles back provisions of the nullified Anti-Homosexuality Act and entrenches the criminalisation of sex work.

“The dunderheads @Parliament_Ug are too obtuse to realise the irony of deleting a critical provision on consent from sexual offences legislation,” she said. “By omitting this provision our good MPs sanctioned rape.”

In 2018, the then British prime minister, Theresa May, apologised for the UK’s role in criminalising same-sex relations in former colonies. Anti-gay laws passed under British rule are still used in 37 of the Commonwealth’s 53 member nations. The laws were “wrong then and wrong now” she said.

In the UK, Rape Crisis (rapecrisis.org.uk), a national organisation offering support and counselling for those affected by rape and sexual abuse, can be contacted on 0808 802 9999. A list of numbers for organisations in other countries can be found here. In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org



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Belgium might close schools and cultural activities

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Today, Friday, Belgian governments are meeting again in order to decide on new Covid measures in order to stop the spreading of the virus as numbers are spiking. This time the concertation committee is gathering on the request of the Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon who suggested to close down all indoor events, including all concerts and theatre productions. The closing of schools is also on the agenda.

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El Salvador ‘responsible for death of woman jailed after miscarriage’ | Global development

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The Inter-American court of human rights has ruled that El Salvador was responsible for the death of Manuela, a woman who was jailed in 2008 for killing her baby when she suffered a miscarriage.

The court has ordered the Central American country to reform its draconian policies on reproductive health.

The decision on Tuesday marked the first time an international court has ruled on El Salvador’s extreme abortion laws and was celebrated by women’s rights activists, who believe it could open doors for change across the region.

Since 1998, abortion in El Salvador has been banned without exception, even in cases of rape and incest. Over the past two decades, more than 180 women have been jailed for murder for having an abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies, according to rights groups.

The case of Manuela v El Salvador was brought after the 33-year-old mother of two from the countryside died from cancer after receiving inadequate medical diagnosis and treatment, leaving her two children orphaned. She had been serving a 30-year prison sentence for aggravated homicide after a miscarriage.

When Manuela – whose full name has never been made public in El Salvador – went to the hospital after miscarrying, staff failed to provide her with timely treatment and instead subjected her to verbal abuse and accused her of having an abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Manuela was handcuffed to her bed and denied access to a lawyer while police interrogated her.

“There is no doubt that Manuela suffered an obstetric emergency,” the landmark court ruling stated. “Such situations, as they are medical conditions, cannot lead to a criminal sanction.”

The court also ruled that the state must pay reparations to Manuela’s family, and should develop comprehensive sexual education policies and guarantee doctor-patient confidentiality.

“The Inter-American court has done justice by recognising Manuela was another victim of an unjust legal context that originates in the absolute prohibition of abortion,” said Morena Herrera, at the Feminist Collective for Local Development, one of the parties in the case supporting Manuela’s family.

“Manuela’s story is a sad one, but it represents a change and becomes a path of justice and hope for all women in Latin America and the Caribbean who are criminalised for obstetric events.”

Most countries in the region respect the Inter-American court’s jurisdiction, opening the door for sweeping change, activists said.

“This is a huge advance for reproductive rights, not only in El Salvador but across Latin America,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, another party in the case. “This is a standard we can apply to the constitutions and states across the region.”

Martínez Coral added that while the ruling was to be celebrated, the issue of poverty affecting access to reproductive rights remained a challenge.

“There are over 180 cases of women in jail, or that have been jailed, over these issues,” said Martínez Coral, who also worked as a litigator on the case against the Salvadorean state.

“What that means is we’re dealing with a state that criminalises women and, above all, criminalises poor women in the most rural and impoverished areas,” she said.

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EU commission unveils proposal to digitalise justice systems

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The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday a proposal to digitalise EU cross-border justice systems, aiming at making them more accessible and effective. Under the new draft law, the EU executive wants to tackle inefficiencies affecting cross-border judicial cooperation and barriers to access to justice in cross-border cases. Shifting paper-based communications to electronic formats would save up to €25m per year across the EU in postage and paper costs.

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