DC Agenda is reporting that US officials have received assurances from the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, that, should Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill reach his desk, he would be inclined to veto the legislation.
The Bill, which would mandate the death penalty for the crime of “aggravated homosexuality”, has received widespread international condemnation, and although Museveni’s opposition to the more stringent measures of the Bill had been rumored for some time, this is the first clear indication that he might take action.
DC Agenda reportedly consulted with Jon Tollefson, a US State Department spokesperson, who said that the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, met with Museveni on Oct. 24 and received assurances that the Ugandan President would attempt to prevent the Bill becoming law:
Tollefson said during the Oct. 24 meeting that Carson met with Museveni and other high-ranking Ugandan officials to express concern about the legislation and conveyed that its passage would be “a big step backwards in human rights” that “could really have the potential to harm the reputation of Uganda.”
“And the president understood the concerns and said that he would do what he could to make sure the bill was not passed,” Tollefson said. “He would not sign the bill. … He made a commitment to the secretary that he would work to make sure it wasn’t signed into law.”
Museveni’s stance against the Bill is said to have then been reiterated in a phone conversation with Carson on Dec. 4:
Asked whether it’s the understanding of U.S. officials that Museveni would veto the legislation should it come to his desk, Tollefson replied, “Right, that’s a commitment that he’s made. He made that personally to the assistant secretary on that first meeting that he had on Oct. 24 and again on a call on Dec. 4, and so we’re going to continue to expect that.”
Further to this, the DC Agenda article spells out that Museveni is unlikely to accept even a watered down version of the Bill, which is encouraging. US officials are urging Museveni to publicly state his opposition to Bill by releasing an official statement. I personally feel this is unlikely. However, it may be worth noting that Museveni has allowed several political figures close to him to publish dissenting views against the legislation on a government owned website.
So what does this mean for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill? Well, while this is potentially very positive news, it doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
From my understanding of Uganda’s legislative process via the Ugandan Constitution (.pdf “Bills returned by President” Page 82, Section 127) a parliamentary override of Museveni’s veto is possible if the Bill is returned to parliament by the President and parliament then musters a two-thirds majority vote (a power granted in the 1995 Constitution).
In assessing the likelihood of this, a few factors might be worth considering. 2011 is both a presidential and parliamentary election year. Taking for granted that Museveni will win yet another term in office (even if by a much slimmer majority than in previous years), members of Uganda’s government may be unwilling to openly defy Museveni.
Also factor in that Museveni’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, controls around 200 of the 305 seats in the Assembly, and add to that Museveni’s influence over the Ugandan military who are also represented there, and Museveni’s veto power looks formidable, if it hasn’t already been made absolute by other means.
That said, it is known that Uganda’s government has shown a large consensus of support for the Bill, so Museveni’s opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill might not be the final word.
It seems true that international pressure may have contributed to Museveni’s reluctance to support the Bill, while internal advisers are said to have echoed US officials this week when they told Museveni that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would damage Uganda’s world standing.
As I wrote on Friday, a debate on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was scheduled, but very little word has emerged as to whether the Bill was in fact discussed at all, or if it simply went through the appropriate mark-up procedures ahead of a full floor debate in January.
Yet, with the news that Museveni seems to be heeding international concern over the proposed legislation, new hope emerges that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill can be prevented from becoming law.
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