The Republic of Uganda implemented the Penal Code Act which defines homosexuality as an offence punishable by law on 15 June 1950 (2). The Ugandan Constitution furthermore forbids same-sex marriages(3), a decree that impinges on citizens’ human rights on the grounds of traditional family norms. Despite these existing legislations, the Ugandan Government seems determined to pass the latest and very controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which will further violate the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans-gendered (LGBT) community in Uganda under the pretence of “protecting” heterosexual citizens and children from homosexuals.
The Bill states, among other things, that certain consensual homosexual acts will be punishable by death(4). Two categories of same-sex acts will be punishable by death if the Bill is accepted. The first of these is ‘aggravated homosexuality’, which means a person engages in homosexual activity with another person who is either under 18 years of age or disabled; or homosexual activity by a person in authority or one who is infected with HIV and AIDS. The second category is labelled ‘serial homosexuality’, which implies that the offender has engaged in homosexual activity more than once. The Bill also expands to such a degree that a person who merely attempts to engage in homosexual activity may be convicted to either seven years imprisonment or given a lifetime sentence(5). The Bill’s provisions also include the punishment and imprisonment of persons who do not report to authorities the people they know to be homosexuals within 24-hours, despite their relations to the offenders and their sexuality(6).
The Bill’s extensive coverage even includes a clause on Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction, which provides for the instance where a person who is a citizen of Uganda but engages in a homosexual act outside the borders of Uganda. Such a person will meet the same punishment the Bill prescribes for when the homosexual act is committed within the country (7). This clause and the above-mentioned provisions of this Bill clearly infringe on the human rights of an already marginalised group in Ugandan civil society. Many regard the Bill as immoral, discriminatory, illegal and as an outright replication of targeted executions committed by the dictator, Idi Amin(8).
United Nations condemn Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Navi Pillay, the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, criticises the Bill for violating international human rights and insists that the Bill be abolished. She declares that the Bill will breach international human rights standards intended to thwart discrimination and therefore should be eradicated(9).
Rupert Colville, spokesperson for Pillay, feels that legislations such as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill should not even be considered 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been implemented. He agreed that if the Bill becomes legal, homosexual citizens of Uganda will be deprived of a range of essential human rights. Pillay warned the Ugandan Government that it is bound to stop receiving foreign aid and will be rejected by the global community if they pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (10). They should be careful not to end up in an international exile from the rest of the world(11) - this sounds dramatic, but the highly controversial nature of the Bill, the large amount of support for it and the international community’s opposition to it, renders global rejection entirely possible.
The Ugandan Government’s Stance on the Bill
World leaders have expressed their concerns about the proposed legislations, but all Ugandans cannot be said to feel the same about the Bill. Some support it, but others admit that it has ‘shortcomings’. Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, has withdrawn from involvement in the Bill. James Nsaba Buturo, Minister for Ethics, said that Museveni never supported the death penalty for homosexuals and that this penalty was to be removed from the Bill. David Bahati, Minister of Parliament for Ndorwa West, is in full support of the Bill. He feels that it will protect the traditional model of the family from being ‘destroyed’ by lesbian, gay and transgender people. He claims that children of Uganda should be protected from being ‘recruited into homosexuality’, and that family ideals will remain intact if the Bill is passed(12).
Buturo revealed to the Canadian Press that Museveni does not stand by the death penalty of homosexual people, but rather that they should be counselled and undergo reparative therapy in order to rid the homosexuals of their ‘bad habit’. Mary Karoro Okurut, spokesperson for the ruling party in Uganda, stipulated that even though Museveni may be opposing the death penalty of the Bill, it should nevertheless be passed. The Government of Uganda therefore remains divided about legislating the Bill, which was expected to stand for consideration in Parliament in late-February or early-March 2010 (13).
Late in December 2009, the Government explained that the Bill was introduced by Member of Parliament (MP) David Bahati, not the by Government. It is the MPs democratic right to introduce a Bill. “To that extent, the Government cannot be seen to interfere with his rights as an MP,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa. “It is inconsistent to promote gay rights and at the same time demand that the right of a Member of Parliament to legislate be interfered with,” he added. He said the Government was aware that the Penal Code is already against homosexuality and that it therefore may not be necessary to further criminalise it. “It is a fact that if there are any homosexuals in Uganda, they are a minority. The majority of Africans, and indeed Ugandans, abhor this practice. It is, therefore, not correct to allow this minority to provoke the majority by promoting homosexuality,” he argued.
Ugandan Churches in Disagreement
Ugandan churches are highly influential and are in disagreement about the Bill, similar to the Government. Pastor Martin Sempa was planning to arrange a ‘million-man’ march on 17 February 2010 in order to show support for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. He condemns the Western World, stating that their Governments have ‘failed’ because they embrace the human rights of homosexual people(14). Sempa has warned that he will launch a campaign to ban Ugandan consumption of products made in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Canada if these countries continue to act against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Ugandans will stop drinking Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other products manufactured in USA if the US does not stop opposing the Bill. Uganda will rather purchase goods from Asian countries who, according to Sempa, ‘respect their dignity’(15). He also threatened to retract Uganda from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
Ugandan Anglican Church leader, Canon Gideon Byamugisha, on the other hand has stated that the Bill may be regarded as ‘state-legislated genocide’ against the already marginalised Ugandan homosexual community. He said that homosexual persons are being used as ‘scapegoats’ by the Government and are being unfairly blamed for the social problems of Uganda, including things like the collapse of the family system and the rise of HIV rates ahead of the national elections that will take place in 2011(16).
The Bishops of the Catholic Church in Uganda have also expressed their opinions about the Bill. Archbishop Cyprian K. Lwanga of Kampala stated that even though they support the Ugandan Government’s current anti-homosexuality laws, the new Bill is ‘too cruel’. Lwanga believes that the Bill concentrates more on the ‘sinner’ than the ‘sin’. In other words, the Bill condemns the offender instead of the act. He emphasised that homosexuals need care, understanding and compassion, as all people endeavour to go to ‘heaven’. The Church also opposes the Bill’s provision to imprison those who try to counsel and fail to report homosexual persons within 24 hours, as it breaches the confidentiality rights of people such as pastors, teachers, doctors, counsellors and even parents. They feel the Bill is unnecessary because the Penal Code of Uganda already criminalises sodomy(17).
Some Ugandan leaders note that it’s unlikely that the Bill will be passed, yet the fact that it receives so much support indicates just how strong the anti-homosexuality sentiment in the country is. The Bill, however, does not only threaten the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered community of Uganda, but all general citizens of the country. Many have a family member(s) or a friend(s) who may be homosexual and their lives may be at risk purely because they are related to, or associate with, these homosexual persons.
Efforts to enlighten and educate Ugandan citizens on safe sex practices will be thwarted by the new Bill. Given that HIV & AIDS is often associated with homosexual activity, the Bill will certainly have serious repercussions on the field of prevention and treatment. It may result in fewer people getting tested for HIV and seeking or providing counselling due to fear of being reported to the police(18). Dr. Francois Venter, the President of HIV Clinicians Society of Southern Africa, demonstrated his concerns about the Bill by stating that it may hamper efforts to reduce HIV infections in Uganda because it discourages openness and promotes the stigmatisation of HIV infected individuals(19). If passed, the Bill will limit the distribution of information about HIV because it will be perceived to promote homosexuality(20).
Finally, foreign relations built up over the years may be destroyed because most developed countries are not against homosexuality but strongly oppose the harsh punishments the Bill provides for. The Bill should be revoked as Uganda may lose a lot of international support and its people may consequently become significantly marginalised. The approval of the Bill will confirm that it is acceptable to stigmatise and even kill homosexual persons, which may in turn even set the stage for genocide and war. The international community should not be intimidated by Uganda’s threats, but rather stand firmly by their beliefs and commitments to human rights. Those who support this Bill should not be afforded the opportunity to implement their fundamentalist sentiments. If the rights of homosexuals are legally and acceptably violated, whose rights will be next?
(1) Maya Zozulya is an External Consultant at Consultancy Africa Intelligence (firstname.lastname@example.org)