A Ugandan MP has tabled a new bill that could mean the death penalty for gay and transgender citizens convicted of “aggravated homosexuality”. The bill, which calls for citizens to tell the authorities about those they believe to be gay, has been called a prelude to “the final solution” by some Ugandan gay rights activists.
Introduced by MP David Bahati, the bill would extend Uganda’s already tough anti-gay laws to prescribe the death penalty for those charged with “aggravated homosexuality”.
The bill describes this charge as engaging in “gay sex” with a person under the age of eighteen, or a partner with a physical disability (their consent does not factor). The charge also applies if the accused has HIV (regardless of whether a condom was used or not).
Further to this, the bill seeks to criminalize the “promotion” and “dissemination” of materials that are affirming of homosexuality, meaning that a charity that helps any known homosexual, for whatever reason, could fall fowl of this egregious and ill-defined law.
Frighteningly, the bill also mandates that, should an individual reveal their sexuality to a relative or friend, they must be reported to the authorities within 24 hours. If the relative/friend does not report that individual, both parties could be fined or face prison sentences. This extends to those who know of relatives who have left Uganda to enter same-sex partnerships in another country.
It is believed that the law will be used to penalize Ugandan gay rights organizations, and that it could also be exploited to shut down HIV/AIDS programs in Uganda. HIV/AIDS charities have been targeted by religious conservatives in the past because of their advocating safe-sex practices such as condom use.
“It will almost certainly lend itself to misapplication and abuse, and implicitly encourages persecution of LGBT people by private actors,” the gay rights group the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (ILGHRC), have said.
Perhaps the full, awful scope of this bill does not become clear until one reads that the proposed law would punish a citizen with life in prison for “touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality”. How they will measure or define such an intention remains unclear. In fact, lack of clarity seems to be the entire basis of the bill, so as to give the authorities greater powers to victimize and, indeed, terrorize Ugandan LGBTs.
Speaking to Amnesty International, Daniel Molokele, the Africa program officer at the World AIDS Campaign, said:
“Discrimination and punitive laws like this aimed at marginalized groups and at those often among the most affected by HIV drive people underground and do nothing to help slow down the AIDS epidemic.”
The law also requires mandatory HIV/AIDS testing for those convicted on a charge relating to homosexuality, even if it is a lesser charge.
Amnesty International’s expert on sexual rights, Kate Shell, has condemned the proposed law as illegal, saying:
“Certain provisions in this bill are illegal; they are also immoral. They criminalize a sector of society for being who they are, when what the government should be doing instead is protecting them from discrimination and abuse.”
Last year, Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister said that homosexuality was a threat to national security, contending that gay and lesbian people, by their very nature, were “an attempt to end civilization”, calling homosexuality a Western phenomenon, but saying that “the disease has penetrated everywhere”.
The bill, which would violate several codes of the Ugandan constitution as it currently stands, has a clause in it rendering all other rights, such as the right to assemble and the right to free-speech, mute when in conjunction with the “offence” of homosexuality.
Insidiously, this law may have been influenced, in part, by anti-gay American religious conservatives who have praised Uganda for its tough stance on homosexuality. Truth Wins Out founder and director Wayne Besen writes:
Sadly, this witch-hunt has the blood stained fingerprints of leading American evangelicals. The Fellowship, (aka The Family) one of America’s most powerful and secretive fundamentalist organization’s, converted Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to its anti-gay brand of Christianity, which is the “intellectual” impetus behind the anti-gay crackdown. The clandestine organization’s leader, Doug Coe, calls Museveni The Fellowship’s “key man” in Africa. Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Family”, writes of the African strongman’s conversion:
“So,” Doug Coe told us, “my friend said to the president, ‘why don’t you come and pray with me in America? I have a good group of friends—senators, congressmen—who I like to pray with, and they’d like to pray with you.’ And that president came to the Cedars (a religious retreat), and he met Jesus. And his name is Yoweri Museveni…And he is a good friend of the Family.”
It should be made explicitly clear, however, that a majority of religious institutions from around the world have reacted with strong condemnation for the death-penalty bill.
Will the bill pass? John Otekat Emile, an independent Ugandan MP, gave an interview to the BBC saying that the bill had a “99% chance” of passing if no one intervened.
But there is something we can do. The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Campaign (IGLHRC) have set up an urgent email initiative calling on the Ugandan Parliament to dismiss the bill. Click here now and help stop Uganda from passing this anti-gay law.
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