/ 14 May 2011

Uganda shelves anti-gay Bill

Uganda’s Parliament on Friday shelved an anti-gay Bill that would have brought in the death penalty for certain homosexual acts after the United States slammed the proposed law as “odious”.

Lawmakers had been due to debate the legislation calling for capital punishment for anyone caught engaging in homosexual acts for the second time and for consensual gay sex where one partner has the HIV virus.

The United States, a major aid donor to Uganda, said on Thursday that nothing could justify passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Parliament speaker Edward Ssekandi said he was “adjourning this house”, effectively killing off the debate over the controversial legislation for this Parliament.

David Bahati, the lawmaker behind the anti-gay Bill, said that no Bills could be passed as the Cabinet was dissolved following the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday following a landslide election victory in February.

“We have made important steps in raising the issue and that will continue,” he said.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of the rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug), voiced relief over the adjournment, but warned: “We shall continue advocating because the Bill could come back next parliament.”

“Certainly today is important as it marks the end of one chapter in the fight against discrimination and persecution of the rights of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community in Uganda,” Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.

“But clearly, we may see this Bill in some form re-emerge in the next Parliament,” Burnett said.

‘Aggravated homosexuality’
Parliament’s current session ends on Wednesday, but since Monday and Tuesday will be given over to the swearing-in of new parliamentarians, officials said that Friday is effectively the last day Bills could be discussed before the recess.

Ssekandi said he reserved the right to reconvene Parliament in case of an emergency, but rights group Avaaz also welcomed the news of the decision to “drop” the legislation from parliamentary discussions.

The adjournment came a day after Museveni was sworn in for a fourth term amid mounting pressure on the country over its moves to crush both the opposition and the gay community.

Museveni’s security forces on Thursday teargassed supporters of his rival Kizza Besigye, sending several people to hospital.

At least 16 journalists were assaulted by security officials whilst covering Besigye’s return, the local professional association said.

“Journalists were ordered out of their vehicles, beaten up by soldiers or police and some had their equipment either taken from them or damaged,” Joshua Kyalimba, president of the Ugandan Journalists Association, said.

US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said: “No amendments, no changes would justify the passage of this odious Bill.”

Uganda — an important ally in the fight against Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked rebels — received $526-million in development aid from the US last year.

The Bill calls for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, a category that includes being caught engaging in homosexual activity for the second time as well as consensual sex where one partner carries the HIV virus and rape of a minor by a person of the same sex.

It also proposes to criminalise public discussion of homosexuality and would penalise an individual who knowingly rents property to a homosexual.

“It would require anyone who knows of or has heard of any homosexual activity to report that to police within 24 hours,” said Burnett.

She said the clause would be in violation of “all levels of confidentiality for doctors, counsellors or priests”.

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, punishable by life imprisonment in some instances. — AFP