Uganda passes bill to jail gay people: Human rights groups condemn law

Uganda passes bill to jail all gay people: Rights group condemn ‘appalling’ law in country where homosexuality is already illegal

  • Amnesty International subsequently urged Uganda’s president to veto the bill
  • Homosexuality was originally criminalised in Uganda under colonial-era laws

The Ugandan parliament has passed a bill setting out jail terms of up to 10 years for offences related to same-sex relationships, forcing rights groups to condemn the legislation as ‘appalling’.

The Bill was passed late on Tuesday inside a packed parliamentary chamber in the capital Kampala. A roll call was ordered by the House speaker who had repeatedly warned it was necessary to identify those who might oppose the legislation. It was supported by nearly all of the 389 legislators present.

Speaker Anita Among said: ‘Congratulations. Whatever we are doing, we are doing it for the people of Uganda.’

An earlier version of the Bill enacted in 2014 was later nullified by a court on procedural grounds. The east African country is notorious for its intolerance of homosexuality – which was criminalised under colonial-era laws.

Amnesty International subsequently urged Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to veto the anti-gay bill, warning it was ‘a grave assault’ on LGBTQ people. But he suggested in a recent speech that he supported the Bill, accusing unnamed western nations of ‘trying to impose their practices on other people’.

Member of Parliament John Musira dressed in a gown reading ‘say no to homosexuality, lesbianism, gay’ as he left the Ugandan parliament following the debating of the bill

Ugandan legislators participate in the debate of the Anti-Homosexuality bill, which proposes tough new penalties for same-sex relations during a sitting at the Parliament building in Kampala yesterday

The Bill was introduced last month by an opposition lawmaker who said his goal was to punish ‘promotion, recruitment and funding’ related to LGBTQ activities.

It creates the offence of ‘aggravated homosexuality’, which applies in cases of sex relations involving those infected with HIV as well as minors and other categories of vulnerable people.

It was not immediately clear what the punishment was for that offence following last-minute amendments in a protracted plenary session in the capital, Kampala.

The Bill also creates the offence of ‘attempted homosexuality’, punishable with up to 10 years in jail.

Same-sex activity is already punishable with life imprisonment under a colonial-era law targeting ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’, partly the basis of a report by dissenters on the parliamentary committee that vetted the Bill before Tuesday’s vote.

‘This ambiguous, vaguely worded law even criminalises those who ‘promote’ homosexuality,’ Amnesty’s east and southern Africa director, Tigere Chagutah, said.

Lawmakers amended significant portions of the original draft legislation with all but one speaking in favour of the bill.

MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, a member of Museveni’s National Resistance Movement party who spoke against the bill, told AFP that offenders would face life imprisonment or even the death penalty for ‘aggravated’ offences.

Members of Kenya’s LGBT community wear masks to preserve their anonymity as they stage a rare protest against Uganda’s tough stance against homosexuality and in solidarity with their eastern neighbours, outside the Uganda High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya

A Ugandan man is seen during the third Annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride celebrations in Entebbe, Uganda, back in August 2014. A sticker on his face reads: ‘Some Ugandans are gay. Get over it!’

Bugiri Municipality Member of Parliament Asuman Basalirwa, addresses the house as he participates in the debate of the Anti-Homosexuality bill yesterday

Amnesty said Museveni ‘must urgently veto this appalling legislation’, adding that it would ‘institutionalise discrimination, hatred, and prejudice’ against the LGBTQ community.

Likewise, Human Rights Watch has described the legislation as ‘a more egregious version’ of the 2014 law, which drew widespread international concern and was struck down amid pressure from Uganda’s development partners. 

‘One of the most extreme features of this new Bill is that it criminalises people simply for being who they are as well as further infringing on the rights to privacy, and freedoms of expression and association that are already compromised in Uganda,’ the Human Rights Watch’s Oryem Nyeko said in a statement earlier this month.

‘Ugandan politicians should focus on passing laws that protect vulnerable minorities and affirm fundamental rights and stop targeting LGBT people for political capital.’

The discussion about the bill in parliament has been laced with homophobic language and Museveni himself last week referred to gay people as ‘these deviants’.

Nevertheless, the 78-year-old leader has consistently signalled he does not view the issue as a priority, and would prefer to maintain good relations with Western donors and investors.

Uganda is notorious for its intolerance of homosexuality – which was criminalised under colonial-era laws.

Uganda’s Speaker Anita Annet Among talks to legislators during the debate of the Anti-Homosexuality bill. Following its passing, she said: ‘Congratulations. Whatever we are doing, we are doing it for the people of Uganda’

Member of Parliament from Bubulo contituency John Musira dressed in an anti gay gown attends the debate of the Anti-Homosexuality bill inside the chambers in Kampala yesterday

Bugiri Municipality Member of Parliament Asuman Basalirwa, addresses the house as he participates in the debate of the Anti-Homosexuality bill yesterday

But since independence from Britain in 1962 there has never been a conviction for consensual same-sex activity.

Uganda’s LGBTQ community has faced pressure from civilian authorities in recent years who wanted a tough new law punishing same-sex activity.

The Ugandan agency overseeing the work of NGOs last year stopped the operations of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the most prominent LGBTQ organization in the country, accusing it of failing to register legally. But the group’s leader stated that his organisation had been rejected by the registrar of companies as undesirable.

The recent decision of the Church of England to bless civil marriages of same-sex couples also has inflamed many, including some who see homosexuality as imported from abroad.

‘The Church of England has departed from the Anglican faith and are now false teachers,’ Ugandan Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba said in a statement last month that described ‘a crisis at hand’.

In 2014, Ugandan lawmakers passed a bill that called for life in prison for people caught having gay sex.

A court later struck down the law on a technicality, but it had already sparked international condemnation, with some Western nations freezing or redirecting millions of dollars of government aid in response.

Last week, police said they had arrested six men for ‘practising homosexuality’ in the southern lakeside town of Jinja.

Another six men were arrested on the same charge on Sunday, according to police.

Homosexuality is criminalised in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries.

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