Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill on the Backburner?
According to the AFP, members of a Ugandan parliamentary panel stated on Friday that, while backing for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 still exists, support has wained and focus has turned elsewhere to matters of economic and electoral reform. Also indicated was the fact that no date has been set for when the bill should go before Uganda’s lawmakers for a formal vote, and nor will it in the near future.
“I think it is useless and will not achieve what it intends to achieve,” said Alex Ndeezi, a member of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee tasked with reviewing the bill before it can be presented to the house…
The panel’s chairman Stephen Tashyoba said the draft law was not a priority.
“As far as I am concerned, we really have more urgent matters to discuss like electoral reforms, which are already behind schedule,” he said.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, dubbed the “Kill the Gays Bill”, would create the offense of “aggravated homosexuality” which, under certain circumstances, could mean the death penalty for repeat offenders and any sexually active gay person with HIV/AIDS.
Among other penalties, it would also demand a jail term for intent to commit homosexuality, and would call for the extradition of gay Ugandans so that they might be charged under the law. It would also make it an offense to know someone that is gay but to not inform the police about that person’s sexuality, and would render HIV/AIDS relief efforts and education programs practically untenable. To read the full text of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, please click here.
The bill has received widespread condemnation from the international community since it was introduced by MP David Bahati last year, with countries such as Switzerland and the U.S. warning that passage of the bill might have serious implications for the financial aid that Uganda receives.
Last week, 120 British MPs signed an Early Day Motion condemning the bill and requesting that the British Government and the European Union press Ugandan lawmakers to abandon the proposed law and to decriminalize homosexuality altogether. While an Early Day Motion is rarely debated in the House of Commons, such motions are often used to declare an MP’s personal views on a topic, or to draw attention to a specific cause or issue.
It is widely thought that the creation of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was influenced by certain American evangelicals that, in March of last year, attended a conference in Uganda entitled “A Seminar on Exposing the Homosexual Agenda.” You can find more information on the possible American ties to this bill by going here.
While there are still strong forces pushing for the bill to be passed, perhaps chief among them Ugandan Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo who rather infamously told gay and lesbian Ugandans to “forget about human rights” and to get out of the country, it is known that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, has said that, due to the fact that this has now become a matter of international relations, parliament should go slow and carefully weigh the legislation. He has even suggested that the more stringent aspects of the bill, including the death penalty, should be dropped, and has indicated that he would be inclined to veto the bill if this was not done.
It is known that there are several Ugandan legislators who also oppose the bill, many of whom feel that existing laws that criminalize homosexuality in the country are strict enough.
A formal vote on the bill was expected after Uganda’s parliament returned from recess in February, but that vote never materialized, and, as signaled above, this does not seem to be a priority in the near future.
However, it would be premature to call the bill dead in the water, as the legislative process in Uganda is often tumultuous and unpredictable. Rather, this latest statement perhaps signals the slow abandonment of a bill that once looked certain to become law.
Thanks to international pressure, whether from world leaders like President Obama who labeled the bill “odious” and called for it to be scrapped, to the many religious quarters that also came out against the bill such as the leader of the Anglican church, Rowan Williams, who said that the bill was completely at odds with the Anglican ethos, and all this teamed with considerable opposition from within Uganda itself, the bill has now been marked as an unfavorable battleground for Museveni and Uganda’s lawmakers and is likely to be seen as just too damaging on all sides to be allowed to pass, at least in its current form.
While this most recent news seems somewhat encouraging, it is imperative that we continue to apply pressure until the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 is firmly abandoned and not just watered down.
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