The law, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, is currently proceeding in Uganda’s Paraliament after having a first reading last month and is now set to be a possible bone of contention among Commonwealth leaders as well as international advocacy groups who will participate in this week’s Heads of Government Meeting.
According to clause two of the bill, a copy of which was obtained by Newsday, a person who has gay sex is liable to life imprisonment on conviction. If that person happens to also be HIV positive, the penalty, as set out by clause 3 under the heading “aggravated homosexuality”, is death. A person also falls under the capital offence of “aggravated homosexuality” if they are a repeat offender. The bill is a private members bill put forward by a government MP, Bahati David.
The bill has not been formally endorsed by Uganda’s president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, but his government has allowed it to proceed through Parliament, and some of his top officials have praised it. A senior government member, Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo, has said he views the bill “with joy” because it will “provide leadership around the world.”
Already, a spokesperson for Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has warned that Canada is against the bill, which has not formally been placed on the CHOGM agenda. According to a report in yesterday’s online edition of Canada’s The Globe and Mail, a spokesman for Mr Harper has criticised the bill.
“If adopted, a bill further criminalising homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights in Uganda,” said Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the Canadian prime minister’s office was quoted as saying.
The Ugandan bill calls for a three-year prison sentence for anyone who is aware of evidence of homosexuality and fails to report it to the police within 24 hours. It also allows for the prosecution of Ugandans who engage in homosexual acts in foreign countries. And it imposes a prison sentence of up to seven years for anyone who defends the rights of gays and lesbians.
Local gay/lesbian/bi-sexual and trans-gender advocacy group CAISO yesterday urged Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Museveni to condemn the legislation.
“CAISO stands with human rights advocates of all stripes across the Commonwealth and the world in issuing a call to have leaders use Trinidad and Tobago’s shores to speak out forcefully against legislation introduced by a member of the Ugandan Parliament that would deprive all gays and lesbians and people with HIV of the core benefits of citizenship,” the group noted in a press release yesterday.
Addressing the Commonwealth People’s Forum on Tuesday, Stephen Lewis, the former United Nations envoy on AIDS in Africa, warned that the bill, “makes a mockery of Commonwealth principles. Nothing is as stark, punitive and redolent of hate as the bill in Uganda. Nothing comes close to such an omnibus violation of the human rights of sexual minorities.” The Commonwealth HIV & Aids Action Group (CHAAG) yesterday called for the suspension of Uganda if the bill is passed. It was only last week that Museveni and Manning were asked to intervene in another human rights issue, that involving comments made by Gambia’s president Yahja Jammeh who has said he will kill persons aligned with human rights groups. Jammeh will not attend tomorrow’s CHOGM.