Bahati’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill falls

Frank Mugisha, Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo and other human rights defenders delivering the Avaaz petition to the Ugandan Parliament

The Ugandan Parliament adjourned on Friday without taking any action on pending legislation including the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Earlier last week the Parliament had been stalled on a “technicality.” MPs discussed a motion to continue all business until the next Parliament perhaps next week, when a new Cabinet is in place.

The Speaker of Parliament Rt.Hon.Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi at a session that he called on Friday, said business could not be conducted and announced that the proclamation ending the Parliament had been signed. The ninth Parliament will commence on May 18.

A spokesperson said she didn’t know of any way the Anti-Homosexuality Bill could be resurrected in the next Parliament without the continuing motion but would not rule it out. As it stands, Bahati will have to ask Parliament permission to reintroduce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill s a private member’s bill in the new Parliament. If they give him permission then he can introduce the same bill or a modified one and the process would begin again.

David Bahati, the MP who introduced the private member’s bill, said he would try to reintroduce it when the next parliament convened after February’s elections, and said it had achieved his goal of sparking debate. “We have made important steps in raising the issue and that will continue,” he was quoted as saying.

Helen Kawesa, spokeswoman for parliament, said the anti-gay bill could come back up for debate in the next parliament but that it would take time to return to the floor. Kakoba Onyango, a member of parliament, said the anti-gay bill has taken so long to be acted on because President Yoweri Museveni did not back it and because of the criticism of human rights groups.

The bill has been bitterly criticised by human rights groups and political leaders. The U.S. State Department called the bill “odious”. President Barack Obama has condemned the bill and donors have urged Uganda’s government to ensure the measures never become law.

Maria Burnett, of Human Rights Watch, said it would still be a very long fight to stop the Ugandan legislation as “the issue has not gone away. The international pressure over the last year and a half has been very important to show that Uganda cannot act in isolation from the international community.”

Avaaz, the campaign group, called it a “victory for all Ugandans and people across the world who value human rights”.

The harassment of gays has increased in Uganda since the introduction of the bill in October 2009.

Last October Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper published the names and photographs of several people it said were gay, with the headline “Hang them”. In January, David Kato, a campaigner who led condemnation of the bill, was murdered not long after suing a paper that outed him as gay. Police denied the killing was because of his sexuality.

Bahati’s original bill would have imposed the death sentence for active homosexuals living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape. “Serial offenders” also would face capital punishment. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act would face life imprisonment. Anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality” would face seven years in prison. Landlords who rent rooms or homes to homosexuals could also be imprisoned for seven years. Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda but the bill would increase the penalty for those convicted to life in prison. Those found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” – defined as when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a “serial offender” – would face the death penalty. Anyone failing to report to the authorities a person they knew to be homosexual would also be liable to prosecution.

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