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Cheering and clapping for hate: Uganda’s anti-gay bill returns

Gay Rights
Two and a half years since its first reading in October 2009, the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill has once again been tabled in parliament. Although ‘homosexuality’ is already criminalized in Uganda, the intention of the Private Members Bill presented by David Bahati MP is to extend criminalization to what religious leaders have called ‘promotion of same sex relations’, sexual rights/sexual health advocacy, to increase prison sentences to life and possibly introduce the death penalty.

The bill was shelved in 2010 when President Yoweri Museveni warned those advocating it that it was sensitive and would compromise Uganda’s international standing. Nonetheless, most LGBTI activists believed it would return at some point. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when on 7 February 2012, less than two weeks after the anniversary of the murder of Ugandan activist David Kato, the Bill was re-introduced to parliament. The reception of wild cheering and clapping from MPs on hearing it tabled is frightening in its cold, bare-faced hatred of LGBTI people. Museveni, possibly in anticipation of threats of sanctions from the West, has again distanced himself from it by stating it is a private members bill and not part of the government’s legislative programme, and by insisting that it does not have the support of the cabinet. However, under the Ugandan constitution the bill has to take its course, either within parliament or in the corridors outside. As Ugandan blogger Seba Space comments, Museveni has left himself out in the cold, thanks to charges of excessive corruption, nepotism and mismanagement.  

Worse to come
If anyone needed a warning of the dangers faced by LGBTI people and their allies, they need look no further than the 14 February raid by the Minister of Ethics and Integrity on an LGBTI workshop on leadership held in Entebbe. The reports in the Ugandan media that the workshop was ‘secret’ are untrue. It was held in a hotel and no-one was in hiding. Hilda Tadria, one of the workshop facilitators, reports that prior to the meeting the Ministry requested and received details of the workshop, including all training materials and the names of those invited to attend. The minister arrived, lectured everyone on morality and forcefully disbanded the meeting. He then attempted to arrest one of the activists, Kasha N Jacqueline, who fortunately managed to escape and is now in hiding, no doubt in fear of her life. Tadria writes:

‘Reflecting on what happened on Tuesday, it is quite clear to me that the Minister overstepped all boundaries of rational behaviour. But more importantly, he blatantly violated the Law. In the first instance, every Ugandan has the right to assemble, speak freely and to have an education.  This was a workshop convened to conduct training in skills that every citizen is entitled to.  Secondly, although the Minister even went so far as to make the laughable claim that the gathering could have been planning a military coup or was plotting to disrupt national security, there is not an iota of evidence to support either claim. But I was most shocked that the Minister asserted that the government had all the right and the power to stop any kind of gathering that was taking place anywhere in the country; what a statement of arrogance and unbridled power! I find this wholly unacceptable and unsupported by any provision in the law. It is well known that if a gathering is to be stopped, there must be reasonable grounds to do so, accompanied by the relevant legal documents, such as a court instruction or a Police order. The Hon. Minister was in possession of neither.’

What is also contradictory and of concern regarding the Minister’s appearance is that his actions conflict with President Museveni’s claimed position that the government is not in support of the Bill. So why shut down a workshop and attempt to arrest an LGBTI activist? Clearly, Museveni and his cabinet are playing a double game and cannot in any way be trusted. So far the ‘international’ community has been silent – not a word from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her Human Rights Day pronouncement that the US would ‘defend LGBT rights across the world’.

Presently the Bill is being addressed by the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, which must report back within 45 days – so we have 45 days, or less, to stop the Bill not only from passing but from ever again being resurrected. 

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