Uganda’s parliament abruptly passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill Friday, though the prime minister said that not enough members of parliament were present to establish a formal quorum and validate the vote. The bill was passed without any public notice, prompting international rights organizations to question its legal legitimacy. The bill now goes to President Yoweri Museven to be signed into law. However, the HRC reports that Museveni has previously stated that he does not support the bill.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was first introduced by MP David Bahati in 2009. Bahati said that the vote was “A victory for Uganda. I am glad the parliament voted against evil.” The original draft prescribed the death penalty for certain instances of “aggravated homosexuality,” including if one person was HIV-positive or if the liaison involved a minor. The capital punishment provision has been replaced with one calling for life imprisonment for such instances, while maintaining an earlier stipulation that imposes jail sentences for anyone who does not report a “known homosexual” to police.
Homosexuality was already illegal in the East African nation, but the new bill criminalizes LGBT identities even further, outlawing the “public promotion of homosexuality,” including doiscussion by LGBT rights groups.
Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament, promised to pass the legislation last year as a Christmas gift to Ugandans, a pledge which she appears to have made good on one year later. She was recently named the chairperson of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, an international parliamentary association that focuses on “good governance, democracy, elections and human rights.”
In rushing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill through parliament, Kadaga ignored procedural rules she put in place — including a recently enacted provision that every bill which passes through parliament must pass a “Human Rights Checklist that ensures the proposed legislation adheres to the Ugandan constitution and international hum n rights standards.
President Yoweri Museveni might veto the legislation in response to international pressure but even if he vetoes the bill, Parliament could override his veto with another vote. Given the strong support for the law among Ugandan members of parliament, that could be the likely outcome.
The bill has already wreaked havoc and fear upon LGBT people living in Uganda. Activists remain determined to overcome the bill and are counting on international outrage to help sound the alarm.
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) issued a statement condemning the bill’s passage
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has learnt with deep regret that the ninth Parliament of Uganda has passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009.
SMUG has learnt that the Bill as passed by Parliament maintains the prohibition of consensual same sex acts between adults and prescribes a penalty of life imprisonment for so–‐called repeat offenders. It also requires “persons in authority, including persons exercising religious or social authority to report offences under the Act within twenty four hours or else face imprisonment for three years or a fine.” Furthermore, the Bill maintains the offence of “Promotion of Homosexuality” against anyone who acts as an accomplice or in any way abets homosexuality and “related practices”.
“I’m outraged and disappointed that the Uganda parliament has acted in a very ignorant and irrational way” said Frank Mugisha the Executive Director, SMUG. “We shall fight this legislation TO THE END,” he asserts.
While the Bill is yet to be signed into law by the President, SMUG condemns in the strongest terms the haphazard manner in which Members of Parliament passed it with little if any regard to procedure and to whether it complies with the 1995 Constitution as the Supreme law of Uganda. SMUG has received reliable information that the Bill was passed without the requisite quorum despite protests from some Members of Parliament. There is also no evidence that the Bill was subjected to the Human Rights Checklist which the Speaker of Parliament launched late this year.
“Today will go down in history as the worst day for LGBTI identifying persons and human rights in general. The passing of the bill has caused significant panic even before its assented” Mr. Mawadri, SMUG Legal/Human Rights Officer.
Should the President assent to the Bill, it would greatly undermine the fundamental Constitutional Rights of equality and non–‐discrimination of Ugandan citizens who identify as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual (LGB). The Act would also have dire implications for the rights to privacy, assembly, association and speech in addition to other basics rights of members of the LGBTI community in Uganda. If assented to, the law would as well spell a major setback for the freedoms of association of human rights organizations engaged in the promotion of these rights. The law would also curtail Uganda’s gains against HIV/AIDS as it may compromise doctor–‐ patient confidentiality, which could push LGB affect persons further underground for fear of prosecution.
SMUG reiterates that the Anti Homosexuality Bill undermines rather than upholds the family as it seeks to create ear and suspicion within families and societies and entrenches state sponsored homophobia.
The Act also undermines Uganda’s obligations under international and regional human rights instruments, which uphold the basic human rights principles of equality and non–‐discrimination.
SMUG calls upon; the President of the Republic of Uganda H.E Gen. Yoweri K. Museveni not to sign this bill into law so as to prevent its dire effects on human rights work and HIV/AIDS progress in Uganda. We also call upon the entire international community to remind Uganda of its international treaty obligations and to join hands against the Anti Homosexuality Bill. SMUG remains committed to pursue all possible lawful means to challenge the existence of such an intrusive law on Uganda’s Statute books, and to defend the fundamental human rights of sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG)
P.O. Box 70208, Clock Tower,
Telephone: +256 312 294 859
Summary of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill
The Bill extends the existing penalty of life imprisonment for same-sex intercourse to all other same-sex behaviour, including the mere touching of another person with the intent to have homosexual relations.
Life imprisonment is also the penalty for contracting a same-sex marriage.
Promoting homosexuality and aiding and abetting others to commit homosexual acts will be punishable by five to seven years jail. These new crimes are likely to include membership and funding of LGBT organisations, advocacy of LGBT human rights, supportive counselling of LGBT persons and the provision of condoms or safer sex advice to LGBT people.
A person in authority – gay or heterosexual – who fails to report violators to the police within 24 hours will be sentenced to three years behind bars.
The new legislation has an extra-territorial jurisdiction. It will also apply to Ugandan citizens or foreign residents of Uganda who commit these ‘crimes’ while abroad, in countries where such behaviour is not a criminal offence. Violators overseas will be subjected to extradition, trial and punishment in Uganda.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been widely misrepresented as increasing the penalty for homosexuality to life imprisonment. This is incorrect. The penalty for anal intercourse has always been life imprisonment. The new law increases the penalty for other same-sex acts – including mere sexual touching – from seven years to life imprisonment.
In violation of Uganda’s constitution
The Bill violates Article 21 of the constitution of Uganda, which guarantees equality and non-discrimination:
21. Equality and freedom from discrimination.
(1) All persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life and in every other respect and shall enjoy equal protection of the law.
In violation of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights
It also breaches the equality and anti-discrimination provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Articles 2, 3 and 4), which Uganda has signed and pledged to uphold.
Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or any status.
Every individual shall be equal before the law. Every individual shall be entitled to equal protection of the law.
EXISTING UGANDA LAW – Prior to Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Penal Code Act of 1950 (Chapter 120) (as amended)
Section 145. Unnatural offences
Any person who—
(a) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature;
(b) has carnal knowledge of an animal; or
(c) permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.
Section 146. Attempt to commit unnatural offences
Any person who attempts to commit any of the offences specified in section145 commits a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.
Section 148. Indecent practices
Any person who, whether in public or in private, commits any act of gross indecency with another person or procures another person to commit any act of gross indecency with him or her or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any person with himself or herself or with another person, whether in public or in private, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.