Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Reports of death greatly exaggerated: Imminent return predicted of Ugandan 'kill gays' bill

By Paul Canning

Despite reports now reaching international media outlets that Uganda's proposed Anti-Homosexuality (aka 'Kill gays') bill (AHB) has been stopped by a Uganda Cabinet decision, Ugandan media today is confirming that, under the Westminster system of government, Parliament decides on whether a bill will proceed, not the executive.

The Monitor, covering a backlash by AHB proponents to the Cabinet decision, today notes that:
The AHB is a private members Bill and Shadow Attorney General, Abdu Katuntu (MP Bugweri) said Cabinet cannot throw out a Bill it didn’t bring. “The only option they have is to come and oppose it on the floor of the House,” he said.
This is reinforced in comment obtained by blogger Warren Throckmorton last night:
Parliament spokesperson, Helen Kawesa, said that the bill ”is in the Parliament now. It’s Parliament’s property.” She added the Cabinet ministers will “have to argue it out in the Parliament” since the bill is controlled by Parliament and has not yet had a vote.
The decision to allow the AHB to be brought back lies with the Parliament's speaker, Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga - not the Cabinet.

As we reported on Saturday, sources say that Kadaga will be asked to make this decision within the next fortnight.

Worldwide media reports in the past two days have suggested that the AHB is 'dead' as a result of Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper's report that the AHB had been "thrown out" by Uganda's Cabinet. The newspaper's report quotes ruling party lawyer and MP Adolf Mwesige saying that the bill was unnecessary since Uganda already has a number of laws in place criminalising homosexual activity. Reuters, which describes the anti-gay movement in Uganda as "small but vocal", is quoting "political analysts in Uganda" saying that the cabinet decision means that the the AHB "cannot be passed in the near future".

A cabinet committee last year similarly rejected the AHB - to no effect.

According to the South African based news website Behind The Mask - which reports a Ugandan source saying that Mwesige "was overtaken by events" and that the cabinet decision was taken because aid donors and "other sections of the public" "were not comfortable":
Under Uganda’s Parliamentary Rules of Procedure, a Private Member of Parliament can table a bill. However Cabinet ordinarily discusses the bill and associates itself with such a bill. The legislator can then approach the Ministry of Finance to get a Certificate of Financial Implications, indicating how much it will cost government to set up institutions and frameworks for managing the bill if passed into law.

“That’s where Mr Bahati will have a technical challenge. The Ministry of Finance can refuse to give him this Certificate. That will mean he cannot reintroduce the bill,” Mr James Mukaga, a Clerk Assistant to the Parliament of Uganda said.
However Throckmorton has quoted MP Otto Odonga that the Speaker has vowed to bring back the bill without reintroduction.
"It would be old business and could be brought forward at her discretion. Whether or not she will do that is a guessing game."
We understand that significant pressure has been brought on the Ugandan government over the AHB, including on individual MPs such as Speaker Kadaga, and this is suggested by the United States State Department in a statement to blogger Melanie Nathan, the first by a foreign nation to comment on the prospect of a revival of the AHB. They said:
“We continue to monitor the situation closely and have repeatedly expressed our views to senior Ugandan government leaders, including President Museveni, that the [AHB] — or any piece of legislation seeking to further criminalize homosexuality — is inconsistent with Uganda’s international human rights obligations. If a similar bill reemerges, we will continue to voice our opposition loud and clear. The U.S. government feels very strongly that, if adopted, a bill further criminalizing homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights in Uganda. As we continue emphasizing, respect for human rights is key to Uganda’s long-term political stability and democratic development.”
A new project called OneFamilyOneVoice has been launched "to fund and conduct intensive private lobbying of Ugandan officials to block the anti-gay bill", according to blogger and activist Rick Rosendall, who says he attended a forum on the new project last week in Washington DC and that the project features Ugandan human rights activists and anti-Museveni ex-pats.

The MP quoted in the reports on the Cabinet decision, Adolf Mwesige, led the parliamentary committee which considered the AHB in the last parliament, where it almost came to a vote before running out of time during May. In the final week of parliament there was much reporting that the provisions providing for the death penalty would be removed by Mwesige's committee - however this did not happen.

David Bahati
Bill author and chief promoter David Bahati MP was accused at the time of lying about the supposed removal of the death penalty provisions by long time Uganda watcher Jim Burroway.

Reports have suggested that Bahati and others intended to reintroduce the AHB by stealth.

Ugandan blogger Angelo Izama reported 14 August that:
"My sources in parliament .. [say that] because of the world wide storm [the AHB] generated it will come to the House for debate in stealth not reflected in “ the order paper” of the day."
Today's reporting by The Monitor suggests that the stealth strategy is no more.
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