Uganda’s deplorable Anti-Homosexuality Bill has reappeared periodically for consideration by its parliament, but until now it has always been withdrawn or placed on the back burner. Last week, however, it failed to disappear; instead, it was approved and awaits the president’s signature. That’s very bad news.
It is already illegal in Uganda for men to engage in sexual relations with other men. But the proposed law strengthens and clarifies the prohibition, setting a 14-year jail term for a first conviction and “imprisonment for life for the offense of aggravated homosexuality,” according to a government statement. What’s more, according to officials at Human Rights Watch, the new bill is believed to extend that penalty to women who have same-sex relations. The full text of the bill has not yet been released.
The bill also would criminalize the “promotion or recognition” of homosexuality, which human rights groups say could be interpreted as barring the activities of organizations that advocate for gay rights or even those that offer health services to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.
The parliament said the government needed to toughen existing laws to protect young people who might be vulnerable “to sexual abuse and deviations as a result of cultural changes.”
The original 2009 version of the bill would have subjected repeat offenders of the ban on gay sex to the death penalty. After an international outcry, that was downgraded in later versions to life imprisonment.
But to state the obvious, either penalty qualifies as outrageous. Homosexuality is frowned on in many parts of Africa; about 30 other African countries outlaw it in one way or another, according to international human rights groups. But the Ugandan bill is a particularly harsh and belligerent measure that institutionalizes the harassment of gay people and the violation of their human rights. Ugandan legislators apparently see homosexuality as a deviant Western cultural export that has infiltrated their country. That misguided view has fueled a shameful culture of repression in their own country and brought on the condemnation of scores of other countries around the globe.
The bill can still be stopped. Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, should veto it. And then the Ugandan parliament should drop its effort to recycle it once and for all.