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Monday, 9 May 2011

World acts to stop Uganda's 'kill the gays' bill

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda at ...Yoweri Musceveni image via Wikipedia  
By Paul Canning

This post will be updated

As we reported on Friday, the Ugandan Parliament is currently discussing the infamous Anti-Homosexuality 'kill the gays' bill and it may come to a vote this week.

Committee hearings continue today on it. We understand that no critics of the bill have been called to testify.

Update, May 10: Warren Throckmorton reports that the bill is on the Parliament agenda for Wednesday 11 May. Jim Burroway explains the reasons why we can expect that the bill may well come to a vote, such as Bahati's political influence.

The death penalty IS in the bill. Amendments could be offered to remove it tomorrow. Update: Throckmorton quotes a Parliament PR officer saying that changes have been made to the bill:“They found a few things to remove here and there that were extreme, but I don’t know exactly which ones.” Update: Bahati tells Throckmorton that the committee report will recommend the removal of the death penalty and the attempted homosexuality planks. The sentence for homosexuality will be reduced from life but he did not say to what – Martin Ssempa has previously suggested 7-20 years.
 
Update: Warren Throckmorton quotes Brian Nkoyooyo that:
Human Rights Commission, Sexual Minorities Uganda and the Coalition on Human Rights presented testimony in opposition to the bill. The hearings are still being held, although he did not know who else intended to testify. He was not sure if hearings would take place tomorrow but believed that the bill could come to the Parliament for discussion by Wednesday.
Update: Warren Throckmorton reports that the bill coming to a vote appears to hinge on the completion of the committee report by the Committee Chair and the willingness of the Parliament's Speaker to bring it to the floor on Wednesday.
If this does not happen, the Speaker would have to call the MPs together sometime during the festivities of the Presidential inauguration and the swearing in of the new Parliament on the 18th.
Update: AP have reported and quote Stephen Tashobya, the head of the parliament committee, saying that the bill should be prioritised.
"Due to public demand the committee has decided to deal with bill," Tashobya said. "The bill has generated a lot of interest from members of the public and members of parliament and that is why we spared some time deal with before this parliament ends."
Update: San Diego Gay and Lesbian News interviews Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, former Ugandan Anglican Bishop and longstanding friend of that country's embattled LGBT. He spoke at today's Committee hearing and believes that the bill will be passed.
When the bishop spoke at the hearing, one of the parliamentarians thought that he was going to support the bill and was surprised to hear him opposing it.

“I am not advocating for the LGBT community,” Bishop Christopher told the astonished member. “I am just dealing with reality.”
The bishop spoke specifically to the effect that criminalization of homosexuality has on access to information about HIV and AIDS, prevention and care.

“If we criminalize the LGBT community further, it will drive Ugandans further underground and compromise the relationship of medical, counselors and clergy that is sacrosanct and needs to remain confidential,” the bishop said. “How can we expect doctors to treat everyone when this bill will require them to report on their patients who are LGBT?”
Update: Audio of today's hearing has been uploaded by 'spiralx' (HT: Bombastic Kasha):




Check this out on Chirbit

Update: The 31 member Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law has issued a press release which is headed 'Is Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill being used to blind the world?'
"Speculation is rife that the Bill, once believed to have been permanently shelved by Cabinet in light of its many absurdities, is being used to blind the world to everything else that is going on in Uganda."
As we reported on Friday, the blogger GayUganda suggested that the bill's revival was related to the mass protests currently going on in Uganda against price rises and human rights abuses.

They add that:
The Coalition has been reliably informed that attempts have been made to find a ‘win win situation’ which protects both National and International interests by amending those portions of the Bill which are most offensive to international best practice. We also hear that Honorable Bahati, has proposed a number of amendments to his original Bill.

As a Coalition we do not believe that there is any conflict between national and international perspectives on the failings of the original Bill, nor do we believe that amendments in any way offer an acceptable way forward; while the wording may change, the intention of an Anti-Homosexuality Bill will remain the same: to Kill the Gays. We therefore reject the original Bill, together with any attempts to amend it, in their entirety.  
An appeal from the international LGBT campaigning organisation allout.org notes that:
"While some conservative members of parliament have staked their political careers on this bill, Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni has shown himself to be sensitive to international pressure. Last year, a massive response from people around the world pushed him to stop the bill in its tracks."
Update: allout.org's petition has topped 100,000 signatures in 15 hours. A number of celebrities 'retweeted' it including Sarah Brown and Stephen Fry.

Update, 10 May: the massive international activist group Avaaz has now released its own petition with an aim for one million signatures.It passed half a million in four hours.

The sensitivity allout notes may increase with the knowledge that the US government has moved increasingly to tie aid to human rights, including LGBT human rights. The US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geitner, last month indicated that the US will use its influence in world bodies which provide Uganda with a big chunk of its budget. Already Germany has stopped aid to Malawi following anti-gay moves, including criminalising lesbians, in that country and funding for a huge infrastructure project only went ahead after reassurances on human rights from Malawi's government. The European Parliament passed a resolution 16 December 2009 against the bill, which threatens to cut financial aid to Uganda.

We understand that representatives from the US Embassy have been attending the bill's committee hearings and that the British Foreign Office as well as other embassies are closely watching developments.

A group of Italian radical MPs, the country's LGBT group Arcigay and Everyone Group are petitioning that country's Foreign Minister. The group are also petitioning UNHCR to "provide support to homosexual refugees if the unjust law is passed as it would lead to a tragic exodus."

The UNHCR is currently going through a serious and in depth process to look after the needs of LGBTI refugees, which includes an ability to provide for expedited resettlement. However these changes will take some time to implement. We have reported on how the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society has resettled a Ugandan refugee from Kenya and at the beginning of this year the Organization for Refuge Asylum & Migration (Oram) resettled a Ugandan refugee in San Francisco, the first in a new programme. However we have also reported on how delays at the Canadian mission in Nairobi is making Canadian resettlement for Ugandan LGBT refugees "unrealistic".

Update, 10 May: The bill had not received much media attention within Uganda, bar one brief mention on TV. Frank Mugisha reports that this has changed:
"Anti gay Pastor Sempa on UBC TV promoting kill the gays bill accusing NGOs including amnesty for promoting homosexuality,oh God he is lying that we where asking for marraige & pride marches at parliament but Sempa !"
The Civil Society Coalition statement was published 10 May in the New Vision newspaper.
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