Britain and Canada have joined the international disapproval of Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexual law. The bill, sponsored by a secretive right-wing American Christian fundamentalist group, would give Uganda the most draconian anti-gay legislation in the world on the grounds same sex attraction “is not an innate and immutable characteristic”. Gay sex is already illegal in Uganda but under the proposed law, a person convicted of homosexual acts is liable to life imprisonment, and if that person is HIV positive the penalty is execution.
Both Britain and Canada’s prime ministers have told Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni the bill needs to be withdrawn. Gordon Brown and Stephen Harper told Museveni the proposal was unacceptable during a meeting at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Trinidad & Tobago last week. Sweden has also threatened to cut aid if the bill is passed.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 is going through Uganda’s Parliament after receiving its first reading last month. The draft was introduced into parliament on 14 October. According to Clause 2, a person convicted of gay sex is liable to life imprisonment. However there is also “aggravated homosexuality” which means if he or she is also HIV positive the penalty is death. It was introduced by Ugandan MP David Bahati, a low ranking member of the ruling party. Bahati said the legislation is about promoting family values. “Homosexuality is not part of the human rights we believe in,” he said. Many top officials in the government support the bill.
President Museveni is among those homophobic supporters and has long claimed homosexuality is a ‘disease” imported from the West. In 1998 he said “When I was in America, sometime ago, I saw a rally of 300,000 homosexuals. If you had a rally of 20 homosexuals here, I would disperse it.” Last month he urged Ugandans to abhor “divergent sexual orientation” and stand firm against European homosexuals on “a recruitment drive” and abhor “divergent sexual orientation”. Museveni claimed Uganda had very few homosexuals traditionally. “They were not persecuted but were not encouraged either because it was clear that is not how God arranged things to be.”
The bill contains wide-ranging provisions to forbid the “promotion of homosexuality” – including publishing information or providing funds, premises for activities, or other resources. Conviction could result in seven years in prison. The Bill also proposes a three-year prison sentence for anyone aware of evidence of homosexuality and fails to report it to the police within 24 hours. Uganda parliamentary Speaker, Edward Sekandi, said it was necessary “to do whatever we can to stop” homosexual liaisons in Uganda. “We don’t support that practice.”
The legislation was condemned by human rights groups. US-based Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International joined 17 local and international groups who said the bill would violate human rights. Amnesty said the bill would criminalise the legitimate work of organisations working for the defense and promotion of human rights in Uganda. It would also put major barriers in the path of effective HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.
Writing in The Ugandan Independent, blogger Anne Mugisha says Museveni is behind the bill which was designed to distract attention from economical failings. She says Museveni’s links with US far right ideology became evident when he favoured the Bush administration approach on HIV/AIDS with its emphasis on abstinence and faithfulness. NowPublic agrees saying David Bahati is a member of a secretive fundamentalist Christian organisation called The Family. They quote writer Jeff Sharlet who said Bahati has received millions of dollars through the organisation’s African outreach programs. Sharlet also said The Family had cultivated a deep relationship with Museveni.
In Sharlet’s book “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” he named Museveni and Bahati as members of the group. The shadowy group is led by Douglas Coe in Arlington, Virginia and Museveni has visited the group’s compound. Sharlet said one of The Family’s central ideas is that Jesus’ message was not about love, mercy, justice or forgiveness. Rather, it was about power. The group says Jesus didn’t come to take sides, he came to take over. Its core agenda includes fighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they called “totalitarianism for Christ”. Yoweri Museveni is taking this totalitarianism to new levels in Uganda.