If you have been to any court of law in Uganda you know by now that even before you open your mouth to defend or attack someone you need to have some kind of substantial backing. The backing is often in the form of well put-together evidence, an array of witnesses and legitimate citing of support by the constitution – among other things. Ideally when all these elements are brought together and they fit perfectly, one can confidently claim to have a legitimate case.
I am fully aware that the justice system in Uganda has its shortcomings and therefore cannot be looked at as the Oracle. However, I have learnt over time that institutions only work if we believe in them – and if we let them carry out their processes with legitimacy, decency and fairness. Recently, I learnt that as much as the justice system is designed or intended to offer justice, a good number of people have actually suffered because of this same justice system and those who work with and in it.
The issue of minorities is an issue that will forever create debate because as long as the human race exists, there will always be minorities in terms of race, age, sex, faith, orientation, physical build and ideology. The manner in which the justice system handles these “minorities” is one that I have come to learn is unfair, extremely prejudiced and abnormally inhumane.
On Friday 27th February, I attended a get-together organised by Chapter Four Uganda under the theme “Justice4All”. The focus of this get-together was to launch a report titled “The Abuse of the Rights of Sexual Minorities in Uganda’s Criminal Justice System”. Now while it may seem like justice is an ideal that many if not most people deserve and rightly should have access to, there are actually a good number of people who have had no sniff of the scent of justice.
A harrowing tale of certain sexual minorities being ‘physically probed’ and constantly dehumanized because the law does not recognise them as ‘legitimate human beings’ almost made me lose my mind. It is one thing to attempt to understand why someone is different from you. It is an entirely different thing when you try so hard to make someone who does not subscribe to your school of thought look like the enemy. On Friday I listened to stories of Ugandans living in fear simply because of the worry that any moment, they might be victims of a justice process that has adjudged them to be guilty in a war started by, and fought solely by nature.
I was shocked that some Ugandans are treated like they do not belong to this country; they are looked at as evil, nefarious, monstrous and extremely repulsive creatures with little or no semblance to proper human beings.
This infuriates me.
I do not condone acts that are against the constitution and I am in no way a campaigner for immorality or wickedness for that matter. However, I am also not a campaigner of inhumanity, barbaric and fiendish behaviour towards certain people simply because they are not like us.
Ugandans are known to be loving and hospitable individuals. We are known world over as people who love without limits, people who are free-spirited and are always willing to make the strangest of visitors feel at home. Why then do we rise up against our own brothers and sisters? Why do we deny justice to the people who share our cradle land, the people who share our last names, people who we have eaten and drank with since childhood? Why do we suddenly distance ourselves from people simply because they do not look like, think like or act like us? Why do we relegate them to the gates of hell simply because they prefer one thing and not the other? If we are not going to look after our own brothers and sisters, who will? A great many quotes have been directed to teaching people to embrace others no matter the difference that may be present. Why do we suddenly abandon these teachings when our brothers and sisters need us the most? As a policeman / woman, lawmaker, medical practitioner, religious leader, trend setter, celebrity, influential person or just plain human being, is it not my responsibility to treat my fellow man like he deserves the same justice that I think I deserve? Why should I turn round and be callous to someone simply because he does not think like or look like me?
When 66-year-old Bernard Randall was deported for his involvement in Gay activities, one would have imagined that as a foreigner, Randall probably had it coming. One might also argue that as a foreigner, deportation was as decent an action as could be accorded to him for what the constitution deemed illegal or criminal for that matter. And Randall had / has the backing of his Government, several Civil Rights activists, the International community as well as a bunch of countless Western organisations and individuals.
What about our brothers and sisters who may not have the luxury of an army of supporters or sympathisers? What about our friends who have silently suffered life-long confusion about who they truly are? What about those who have grown up in a society that says any attitudes that are different from the norm are acts of the devil? And what about our sons and daughters, who secretly engage in the most devilish acts but will pretend their whole lives simply because they are afraid of ridiculing, mockery, scorn and a whole lot of derision? What about those people who wake up every morning disoriented and unsure of themselves and go to bed at night even more bewildered and lost? Why are we denying them the chance to be human, the chance to attain their full potential and the chance to be who they truly are meant to me as dictated by nature?
I write this piece after having a sad conversation with someone who has for twenty-six years been unsure of what his identity is. And this is because his family, friends and relations are all vehemently against any notions of straying from the norm. While he is otherwise an imperturbable soul that simply needs talking to, understanding and above all, guidance, he has opted to secretly engage in what I am sure his relatives will excommunicate him for – if they find out anyway. Now, while I have been sworn to secrecy, I will confidently say that on his behalf and on behalf of the several minorities that have been condemned to the gallows of public hell because of their differences; I am disappointed on so many levels. I am disappointed in myself and anyone who has under looked, disregarded, neglected and condemned another person just because they belong to the minority.
I am disappointed in my country.
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” ― Benjamin Franklin
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