Ugandan Bill against Homosexuality condemned

Elijah Jordan Turner 5 November 2009

The United States and France have formally denounced a bill that aims to broaden laws against homosexuality in Uganda.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, introduced to the Ugandan Parliament on October 14, allows those charged with committing homosexual acts to be sentenced to life in prison or death. Almost immediately after its introduction, more than a dozen international and Ugandan human rights groups published an article saying the bill went against democratic ideals and amounted to discrimination.

The U.S. Embassy in Kampala concurred, saying on Thursday that the bill signalled a step back for human rights in Uganda. The embassy also urged other nations to take a stand against states that seek to criminalize homosexuality. Since then, Human Rights Watch has reported that four members of the U.S. House of Representatives have appealed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the proposed law may jeopardize the integrity of U.S. aid to Uganda.

On Monday, France joined the United States in condemning the bill, citing “deep concern”.

“France reiterates its commitment to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement to AFP.

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, owing to penal codes dating back to British colonialism which prohibit “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”. The current laws allow those convicted to be punished with up to fourteen years in prison, although human rights groups have reported that many people suspected of homosexuality have simply been harassed or tortured.

Under the proposed law, those convicted of homosexuality are subject to a life sentence. The bill also introduces a new category of offenses known as “aggravated homosexuality”, which includes offenses where the offenders are HIV-positive, as well as homosexual acts with a minor, child of the offender, or a person with a disability. In either circumstance, the charge of aggravated homosexuality carries the death penalty.

On October 15, seventeen international and local human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, wrote an editorial criticizing the bill, saying it promotes fear and discrimination against an already-vulnerable minority. They also pointed to a provision that permits a three-year sentence for anyone who fails to report someone who they know is homosexual or someone who they know promotes gay rights. The added stigma against homosexuality, they argued, could hinder efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in the region.

However, the author of the bill, MP David Bahati, says its aim is to preserve traditional family values and protect youth from changing western views of homosexuality. Ugandan Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo agreed. “They have no mandate whatsoever to come and say ‘your values are wrong, mine are right’,” Buturo said, while speaking to journalists last Thursday.

Elijah Jordan Turner