BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — An anti-gay pastor, sued by a Ugandan queer rights group, is scheduled to appear in a US District court in Massachusetts Jan 7 charged with "crime against humanity" under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).

The suit, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), accuses Abiding Truth Ministries president Scott Lively of waging a “decade-long campaign . . . in coordination with his Ugandan counterparts, to persecute persons on the basis of their gender and/or sexual orientation and gender identity.”

CCR says this is the first known ATS case to seek accountability for persecution on those bases.

The ATS provides federal jurisdiction for "any civil action alien, for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States,” the lawsuit states. "In other words, it allows a foreign national to sue in US courts for violations of US or international law conducted by US citizens overseas," CCR says, adding that the US Supreme Court has affirmed that ATS is a remedy for serious violations of international law norms that are 'widely accepted and clearly defined.'" 

The suit states in part that “Lively’s 2009 work in Uganda and his call to arms to fight against an ‘evil’ and ‘genocidal,’ ‘pedophilic’ ‘gay movement,’ which he likened to the Nazis and Rwandan murderers, ignited a cultural panic and atmosphere of terror that radically intensified the climate of hatred in which Lively’s goals of persecution could advance. Shortly after Lively’s pivotal 2009 work in Uganda, one member of Parliament [Christopher Kibansanga, shadow minister of information and national guidance] said, ‘We must exterminate homosexuals before they exterminate society.’”

The suit names pastor Stephen Langa, religious minister Martin Ssempa, the Ugandan government's ethics and integrity minister, James Buturo, and Ugandan MP David Bahati as Lively's alleged co-conspirators in coordinating a "dramatic, far-reaching response" against the "prospect of basic legal protections for LGBTI individuals."

The lawsuit notes that one of the "shocking, repressive measures undertaken after 2009" was the introduction of Bahati's anti-homosexuality bill, infamously known as the "Kill the Gays" bill, which includes a death penalty provision for so-called aggravated homosexuality. 

The context of Lively's actions is important, the lawsuit adds, alleging that the Springfield, Massachusetts-based evangelist "knew that Uganda presented fertile ground and — through his willing accomplices with access to political power — a realistic opportunity to meaningfully provoke the persecution of the LGBTI community, that he focused much of his decade-long efforts there." 

Lively's Abiding Truth Ministries is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

For additional coverage, visit LGBTQNation and San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

For more on Uganda, see Xtra’s series of articles from Uganda:

Confronting homophobia in the Pearl of Africa

Finding Kampala's gay bar

Young activist tells tale of beating, prison & defiance

Gay Ugandans gather to pray, plan

Hundreds rally against homosexuality

'I would kill a gay son,' says MP

Gay leader urges queers to stay in the closet

Activists present 450,000 names to Parliament

Uganda's anti-gay bill would lead to 'super-criminalization' of HIV

Obama administration meets with gay leaders in Uganda

Elderly bishop rocks Uganda's gay rights movement

Xtra’s Uganda correspondent weighs in


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