Africa

Uganda to authorise life sentence for homosexuals

Rodney Muhumuza

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is set to sign a bill into law which prescribes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts.

Uganda's president is set to sign a law which prescribes life imprisonement for gays. (AFP)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni plans to sign a bill into law that prescribes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts, officials said Friday, alarming rights activists who have condemned the bill as draconian in a country where homosexuality already has been criminalized.

Museveni announced his decision to governing party lawmakers, said government spokesman Ofwono Opondo.

In Twitter posts on Friday, Opondo said the legislators, who are holding a retreat chaired by Museveni, "welcomed the development as a measure to protect Ugandans from social deviants."

Museveni's decision was based on a report by "medical experts" presented at the retreat, saying that "homosexuality is not genetic but a social behavior," said Opondo.

Evelyn Anite, a spokeswoman for the governing party, said the report, which had been requested by the president, was prepared by more than a dozen scientists from Uganda's Health Ministry.

Opondo and Anite both said the president did not say when he will sign the legislation into law.

Homosexuality already is illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law that criminalizes sex acts "against the order of nature."

An earlier version of the bill, first introduced in 2009, proposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts. Although that provision was later removed amid international pressure, rights groups want the whole bill jettisoned. Amnesty International has described it as draconian, repeatedly urging Museveni not to sign it into law.

But the bill is popular in Uganda, one of many sub-Saharan African countries where homosexuals face severe discrimination if not jail terms. A new law in Nigeria last month increased penalties against gays.

A" scientifically correct" position 
After the Ugandan bill was passed late last year, Museveni said he wanted his governing party to reach what he called a "scientifically correct" position on homosexuality, ordering a team of government scientists to investigate whether homosexuality is a lifestyle, according to Anite.

Their report led Museveni to believe homosexuality should be punished, she said.

Museveni, who has criticized gays as "abnormal" people who should be "rehabilitated," had previously called the bill too harsh.

Ugandan lawmakers passed it on December 20. Since then Museveni has been under pressure within his own party to sign the legislation, which has wide support among Christian clerics and lawmakers who say it is needed to deter Western homosexuals from "recruiting" Ugandan children.

The bill would allow life imprisonment for acts of "aggravated homosexuality," defined as sex acts where one of the partners is infected with HIV, sex with minors or the disabled, and repeated sexual offenses among consenting adults. The bill also would make conducting a same-sex marriage ceremony punishable by seven years in prison.

Deep concerns
On Friday, the watchdog group Human Rights First expressed "deep concern" over news that the bill will be signed into law, saying it "will have severely adverse consequences for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people as well as other Ugandans.'"

Robyn Lieberman of Human Rights First said, "There should be no doubt that Museveni's latest words on the subject have been influenced by the reaction to similar legislation in Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere."

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said, "Unless this bill is stopped from becoming law, lives will be destroyed and countless people will be punished for an immutable characteristic."

He said, "Anti-LGBT Americans advocated for laws further criminalising LGBT people in Uganda, and it looks like they are now getting their wish. Whether it's Brian Brown advocating for anti-LGBT laws in Russia or Scott Lively calling for the further criminalisation of LGBT people in Uganda, anti-LGBT Americans must stop exporting their hate abroad."

A Russian law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, bans gay "propaganda" from reaching minors. The law has drawn strong international criticism and calls for a boycott of the Sochi Games from gay activists and others. –Sapa-AP

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