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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

'Kill gays' bill returns in Ugandan parliament

1954 ... wave hello!Image by x-ray delta one via Flickr
By Paul Canning

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality (aka 'Kill gays) bill was reintroduced to parliament yesterday.

The bill includes the death penalty for some offenses, provides for Ugandans fleeing the country to be extradited, requires that all people in Uganda report homosexuals and would ban advocacy by anyone for LGBT human rights.

The bill has been the focus of massive international condemnation since it was first introduced in 2009. President Obama called it "odious". It ran out of time at the end of the last parliament in May and there has been speculation ever since as to whether it would be reintroduced and if so when.

The parliament is considering a large number of other bills and the country has been convulsed by mass protests by the opposition and increasing concerns that the government is becoming more authoritarian. The reintroduction of the bill could be seen as a deliberate distraction from those concerns.

Chief proponent of the bill, David Bahati MP, who last year defended the bill to Rachel Maddow, is now the Chair of the ruling NRM party.

The bill will be the same one which ran out of time in the last parliament. That version came out of a parliamentary committee in May with the death penalty clauses 'hidden'. This led to reports that capital punishment had been removed as a sop to international reaction. But the penalty of “aggravated homosexuality” had been redefined to 'defilement' - a crime that is punishable by death in Ugandan law.

Earlier yesterday, the editor of the tabloid which 'outed' murdered Ugandan gay activist David Kato amongst others by publishing their faces next to the headline “hang them”, spoke with blogger Melanie Nathan.

Giles Muhame, welcoming the 'Kill gays' bill's return, told her that:

“The Ugandan society is hugely conservative with millions looking at homosexuality as a ‘western evil’ creeping into their clean culture.”

Speaking in the parliament today, MP Barnabus Tinkasimire said:

“The anti-gays Bill is overdue because the spirit of my ancestors tell me that they lived without these practices.”
“I have been hearing government officials that when we pass the anti-gays Bill, we shall loose the donor’s money. We can’t afford to stay with such ills in our society and when it comes before the floor, we shall all pass it and support it,” he added, attracting an ovation from fellow backbenchers.

This is probably a referral to a new policy by the British government to redirect development aid from governments which actively repress LGBT.

The Ugandan government announced in August that it was not backing the bill, which led to worldwide headlines that the bill was dead.

Observers say that if the Bill does come to a vote it will be overwhelmingly approved and, contrary to previous information, it would not be possible for President Yoweri Museveni to veto it.

Even though the bill has not passed since 2009, Ugandan LGBT say that it has led to a massive and violent backlash against them in the country, fueled by hate-speech from politicians, media and clergy.

Leader Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, who received one of the world's leading human rights awards earlier this month, has been forced to regularly shift from house to house, afraid to stay long in the same place. Police and security forces regularly stop and intimidate her.

Speaking to swissinfo.ch after receiving the award, she said:

"Harassment occurs almost on a daily basis, verbal attacks in public or more sinister repression. The simple suspicion of being a homosexual has serious consequences: being evicted from your home or losing your job is quite common; many homosexuals commit suicide."

Updated to add: Warren Throckmorton spoke with Parliament Spokeswoman Helen Kawesa, she told him that no date had been set for debate on the bill.

The Parliament Business committee could recommend that the bill go back to committee or it could recommend that the former committee report from the last Parliament become the basis for debate in the current Parliament, she said - the return of the bill to the floor is not automatic. The Speaker has some ability to delay it or expedite it.

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