By Brian Klosterboer  J.D. ’16

Five students traveled to Uganda over spring break to work on pending litigation that could advance human rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans. LGBTI rights have been a contentious issue in Uganda since 2007, when LGBTI Ugandans started advocating publicly for their rights. This sparked backlash from pastors and politicians with close ties to the United States, and in 2009 a Member of Parliament proposed the death penalty for “serial offenders” of homosexuality. The death penalty was later reduced to life imprisonment, and a number of court battles over LGBTI rights ensued.

The students from Harvard worked under the supervision of lawyers at the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), a nongovernmental organization in Kampala that provides direct services, conducts research and advocacy, and coordinates strategic litigation. During the week-long trip, the team conducted legal research, met with lawyers and activists, and wrote an internal memo. Organized by Lambda at Harvard Law and Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights, the trip included Andres Caicedo ‘16, Brandon Storm ‘18, Brian Klosterboer ‘16, Charlie Fletcher ‘18, and Mitha Nandagopalan ’18.

With the guidance of HRAPF attorneys, the team researched Ugandan and international law while exploring human rights strategies for advancing the rule of law. Since 2008, HRAPF has been a leader in promoting human rights for marginalized groups, including LGBTI individuals, sex workers, and women and children living with HIV.

In August 2014, HRAPF was lead counsel in a case that overturned Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in the Constitutional Court. Brian Klosterboer ’16 was part of that team as he interned at HRAPF during his 1L summer. Adrian Jjuuko, HRAPF’s Executive Director, has also visited Harvard Law School twice as a speaker in the last three years.

HRAPF and Harvard strengthened these connections last week as students spent five days working with HRAPF attorneys and paralegals. The students also met with LGBTI clients and visited journalists and activists from the Kuchu Times Media Group (KTMG).

KTMG is an LGBTI-led media group that provides a platform for LGBTI Africans to share their stories in their own voices. It was founded in December 2014 by Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, who had previously been a plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Ugandan tabloid. That tabloid published the names, pictures, and addresses of dozens of LGBTI Ugandans and called for them to be killed. HRAPF represented Nabagesera in the case and set an important precedent that LGBTI individuals have the same right to privacy as everyone else.

Despite this ruling, Nabagesera and others continued to be outed and attacked in Ugandan tabloids. They therefore decided to create a magazine and news website to reclaim the media and tell their own narratives. Last Wednesday, students met with the staff of KTMG and saw a sneak peak of the second issue of Bombastic magazine, which is set to be released next week.

While in Uganda, the team also saw a cultural dance show, went white water rafting on the Nile River, and took a boat cruise on Lake Victoria. The team was welcomed by three LLMs–Godiva Akullo ‘15, Susan Mirembe ‘15, and David Lewis ‘15–who graduated from Harvard last year and are now lecturers of law at two leading universities in Kampala.

The memo that the team produced is confidential, but students hope that their research and analysis will contribute to HRAPF’s mission of advancing human rights for all Ugandans.

The trip was sponsored by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, and Anna Crowe, a fellow in the International Human Rights Clinic, joined students on the trip.