The 16th ICASA 2011 meeting kicked off on December 4 in a colourful ceremony in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, however some undertone tensions marred the key event.
Behind the Mask reported on the disruption of the AMSHeR meetings when a group of religious leaders called for a press conference to denounce the purported ‘gay meetings’ before the timely intervention of the Ethiopian health minister.
The background that led to this disruption has now been established.
According to sources attending the conference, AMSHeR originally planned to host a three-day workshop to build the skills of member representatives between November 30- December 2 and to host a one-day pre-conference session dubbed ‘Claim, Scale-up, and Sustain’ with over 200 participants on December 3. These events were to be held at the Jupiter Hotel.
When the AMSHeR team arrived in Addis Ababa on November 28, the hotel management informed them that they had double booked their conference facilities and that they would need to seek alternative arrangements to host their meetings.
The management suggested some alternative hotels, but informed the organisers that it would take up to a week to transfer their deposit to the new hotel. This set of circumstances made it virtually impossible for AMSHeR to host their workshop and pre-conference as previously scheduled.
The hotel was on the receiving end of accusations from the conservative Ethiopian elements about hosting a ‘homosexual meeting’ and that there were threats of violence made against the hotel. In the face of this hostile homophobic environment, the hotel opted to cancel its obligation to AMSHeR.
While the UN in Addis Ababa stepped in to offer space for AMSHeR to host the workshop and pre-conference, day one of the workshop was cancelled as almost a full day was spent getting the AMSHeR members security clearance to enter the UN compound. However a shorter version of workshop and meeting proceeded without further disruption.
The ICASA organisers have reportedly taken steps to protect delegates following the perceived threat from the conservative religious community.
It is now clear that the Ministry of Health told the conservative religious groups not to derail any processes associated with the conference as a lot of effort went into bringing the meeting to Ethiopia and this would have been a national embarrassment.
So while the Health Ministry did not speak out in favour of LGBT rights or the promotion of MSM health, it did get the religious community to back down from protesting about anything associated with the conference.
However, there as the conference draws to a close there are major concerns for the Ethiopian LGBT activists left behind after the delegates go home.
Regarding the situation of the Ethiopian activists, Kent Klindera the Director of MSM Initiatives at amfAR said, “There is major concern for the Ethiopian LGBT activists who will be here after the conference ends. The director of a group that amfAR supports has received death threats.”
Klindera added, “Recently, a local newspaper published an article purporting that the group had gone to Kenya learn ‘how to promote and spread homosexuality in Ethiopia.’ ”
These claims came after a Pepfar (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) funded study tour sponsored by EngenderHealth, a leading international reproductive health organization working to improve the quality of health care in the world’s poorest communities that sought to learn more on MSM access to HIV prevention and treatment.
Klindera said, “I am working with several other global organizations to ensure that they have protection and are informed and empowered about security strategies to allow continue to do their work.”
The ICASA conference goes into its second day today with a myriad of programmes set for discussion and participation.