Perhaps it was Canada's one-time Prime Minister John Diefenbaker who uttered the words that have become a reality in Canada these days. "Canada is not a melting pot in which the individuality of each element is destroyed in order to produce a new and totally different element. It is rather a garden into which have been transplanted the hardiest and brightest flowers from many lands, each retaining in its new environment the best of the qualities for which it was loved and prized in its native land."
For Canada's ever expanding multicultural society - the shortcomings and milestones of world affairs affects us more than ever as it is likely the story of our next door neighbor. From Egypt, Syria to Uganda - Canadians are getting involved. For instance, this coming Saturday - the Ugandan Canadian community is organizing a public protest to highlight the shortcomings of a new government policy in Uganda. Henry Luyombya and Morris Komakech reflect with me why they believe Canada and Canadians should be alarmed and concerned about what is happening in their native land.
Henry & Morris - You are part of the team that is organizing a protest against the "increased human rights violation in Uganda" in Toronto this coming Saturday. Why should Canada and Canadians care about something that is happening in such a faraway place?
There is nothing like partial justice. It is either justice or no justice and Canada being a leader in global human rights, should take the human rights violations in Uganda seriously. Such violations are potential threats to Canada's economic and business interests in the East African country. Canadians, we are compassionate and caring. We raise donations for floods in Bangladesh, earthquakes in Haiti and China and we respond to calls to action for events in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Lebanon and Yemen.
Now is the time to show genuine support and solidarity for citizens of Uganda - even though events in this country of 37 million people rarely make it to the cover pages or headlines of Canadian mainstream media. The stakes couldn't be higher. In addition, Canada's mostly immigrant population has roots all over the world. This means that they have relatives and friends under these repressive and undemocratic regimes. The health of these Canadians gets affected by the injustices and unlivable conditions in these countries. So at the global level, Canada's leadership in global human rights preservation is an imperative that transcends our territorial borders.
Tell me about the - Public Order Management Bill (POMB) and why you two believe its a legislation that should concern us all?
The parliament of Uganda has hurried passed this law awaiting assenting by the President and we know he will assent to it sooner than later. The POMB is a bad law in all its vestiges; it gives the Police unchecked power to curtail, regulate and to a greater extent administer the enjoyment of our inalienable human rights, particularly, the right to assemble and free speech. We object to this because human rights are God given rights that the state cannot take away from us. The law prohibits three or more people from meeting without police permission. The law gives the police unchecked authority to use firearms on peaceful demonstration. At the bottom of it all, this is law is the spine of tyranny and dictatorship.
Uganda has been in the news in recent years - mostly as a result of human rights abuses. I am also aware of some vocal activists such as David Kato who have been killed for their activism. Update us about the current situation in the country.
Ugandans generally are peace loving people. However, majority of the country remains homophobic and less accepting of sexual differences. It is a one of the worst places that homophobia, transphobia and other social injustices happen in broad day light, moreover most of the injustices are state inspired. The killing of a teacher and LGBT rights activist David Kato in 2011 was a turning point in the country. It showed how much hatred and violent people can be when there is no rule of law to protect the vulnerable and minorities. Several acts of discrimination against people who engage in same-sex activities happen every day but are never mentioned due to fear of repercussions.
Presidents Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Vladimir Putin of Russia are homophobic, but the human rights situation in Uganda couldn't be any better that it is in these two countries. The President, his close associates, religious leaders and many in the Ugandan society openly supported the anti-homosexuality bill, also called 'Kill the Gays' law that almost got passed in parliament in 2012. On her 2012 trip to Quebec in October, the Speaker of Uganda's Parliament Rebecca Kadaga defended the anti-homosexuality bill, and blasted Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird for supporting Ugandan gays and lesbians. She called Baird arrogant and ignorant, and demanded an apology. Infact, Kadaga referred to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill as a "Christmas Gift" to the people of Uganda.
Many people - including myself - question the wisdom of public protests in 2013 and if they are effective. What is the long term plan of your group in highlighting the shortcomings of the Ugandan government?
Skeptics need to take a second look at history of social movements across the world. Peaceful demonstrations that speak to the common man/woman have always yielded social, political and economic change. We have seen it in the civil rights movement, the anti-slavery movement, feminist movement, gay rights movement. What we intend to do is to continue creating awareness about the issue to our Canadian colleagues through various forums. Public protests is one, but we also intend to talk to our local politicians - Councillors, MPs, MPPs and opinion leaders to join our movement. We are also working closely with our allies in Uganda, the rest of Africa, Europe, and North America to continue using peaceful means of addressing human rights violations in Uganda.
Our penultimate goal is to ensure that we hold each person liable - at individual levels for enacting and re-enforcing bad laws. This may include lobbying Canadian government and her allies to deny them visas or seek for their trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity in the future.
Reflect with me about some of the business and charity connection between the two countries.
Two things - one, the recent discovery of oil in Uganda makes Canada a great business partner. Media reports suggest that some Canadian companies have been contracted to do oil extraction.
The bilateral trade in 2012 totaled $13.2 million with $10 million in exports to, and $3.2 million in imports from Uganda, according to a report on a Canadian government website. CIDA remains one of the funders of the Uganda budget and contributes millions of dollars in aid to support clean water supply, HIV/AIDS programs among others. In fact, several Canadian HIV/AIDS not-profit organizations are operational in Uganda, and so these ties are real, and such oppressive government legislation may end up hurting citizens - including those who want to understand governance and policy issues in their country. • Canadian companies and agencies remain active in mining exploration in Uganda and recently a joint venture in Farming. There are so many Canadians/Uganda with small to medium size investments in Uganda and these are very crucial relationships and links.
What role do you want Canada to play in the inner affairs of Uganda?
We call upon the Canadian government to take events seriously just like the ones in Syria, Egypt or Israel. Canada needs to stand up and issue a statement condemning the gross human rights violation in Uganda. Canada needs to convince the Government of Uganda to revise the POMB before it becomes law to enable it meet international human rights laws and standards.
Further, Canada cannot benefit from transactions with a regime that discriminates against sexual minority and whose human rights records are very deficient. Canada has the right to demand that Uganda adheres to its pledges and membership in international human rights accords and other international laws that enumerate democratic and human rights values. The key principle is that the state cannot take away our fundamental human rights which are God given and not given to us by the state. This is a direct abrogation of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda and violation of International human rights accords.