MP David Bahati, author of the now infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 or the “Kill the Gays” bill as it is known due to its death penalty provision for repeat offenders, has vowed that the 8th Parliament’s failure to take up the bill amounts to only a “pressing on the pause button” for the legislation and that he will reintroduce the bill into the 9th Parliament which was sworn in May 19.
“The closure of this parliament is just pressing on the pause button,” he said. “I’m committed to the fight against behaviour and promotion of behaviour that is going to destroy the future of our children.”
Following consultations with various stakeholders, including the government, civil society and the clergy, the Committee of Parliamentary and Legal Affairs has adopted a number of amendments to the original bill, including the removal of provisions criminalizing “attempted” homosexuality and those requiring anyone who knows of homosexual conduct to report it to the police within 24 hours.
However, according to Human Rights Watch, despite Bahati and other supporters of the bill agreeing to the deletion of the bill’s “death penalty clause”, the parliamentary committee retained the death penalty for those accused of “aggravated homosexuality”, by suggesting it be redefined as “aggravated defilement,” which is also punishable by death.
The committee further recommended the creation of the new crime of conducting a marriage ceremony between persons of the same sex, punishable by three years in prison, and suggested deleting the crimes of “aiding and abetting homosexuality,” and “conspiracy to commit homosexuality”, but included a penalty of seven years in prison for “procuring homosexuality by threats”.
Charges based on the notion that an individual has attempted to coerce others into homosexual acts are frequently made in Uganda, so the latter, very vague provision seems tailored for the purpose of shutting down LGBT support networks within the country, especially when married with provisions against the “promotion” of homosexuality.
Relating to this, Bahati is quoted as saying that he will take emphasis away from the death penalty provision and instead focus on the anti-promotion of homosexuality aspect, but one notes that no matter how many times this idea is flirted with, the death penalty always seems to reemerge.
Human rights organizations have warned that even a watered down version of the bill without the death penalty would still constitute a gross violation of human rights and would also chill HIV/AIDS prevention in the country.
Bahati estimates that the bill will be debated and passed by the end of the year. However, action could occur sooner: “Stephen Tashobya, chairman of the Committee of Parliamentary and Legal Affairs, said the bill could, in theory, be tabled any time from next week, but that the government agenda would take precedence.”
As is standard with Ugandan politics, a great deal is changeable — one thing that seems a certainty, however, is that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is not dead yet, though how and when it will receive a reading in parliament remains unclear.