Homosexuality: But why punishable by death in Uganda?
Hundreds of LGBT+ people have been forced to leave the country as refugees and more will follow if this law is enacted. “It will criminalise us from even advocated for LGBT+ rights, let alone supporting and protecting sexual minorities”.
The “Kill the Gays” Bill was invalidated five years ago on a technicality which included the death penalty.
In February 2014, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would increase the penalty for same-sex relations from seven years to life.
But it was annulled by courts in August 2014. Activists hailed it as a victory for the country.
Now, the Ugandan government plans to introduce the Bill within the next few weeks.
The government said it would curb the rise in “unnatural sex”, where they are “promoting the falsehood that people are born like that”.
Across Africa, homosexuality is seen as a punishable offence and is highly restricted. As for 2016, same sex acts were outlawed in 33 of the 54 African countries recognised by the UN. And more than half the countries in the sub-Saharan African region have anti-homosexuality laws.
homosexuality was, under Sharia law, potentially punishable by death in Sudan, northern Nigeria, and Mauritania, where the death penalty has not been abolished.
In Somalia, gay men are believed to have been executed in territory ruled by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group.
MPs in Uganda are to push for new laws to make homosexual acts punishable by death.
James Nsaba Buturo, an MP, said parliamentarians wanted to retable a bill ruled unconstitutional by a court in 2014 that would introduce capital sentences for gay sex.
“We are putting our act [bill] together. Just give us a bit of time … We need a law that defends and protects our values,” he said.
The proposed new law is the latest setback for LGBTI rights in Africa. In May, Kenya’s high court rejected an attempt to repeal colonial-era laws criminalising gay sex.
Homosexuality is illegal in most countries on the African continent. In a handful of states, gay people face life imprisonment or the death penalty. In Uganda, a largely conservative Christian country, homosexual sex is punishable by life imprisonment.
After initially indicating it might support the move, the government has backed away from supporting any change to the law after major aid donors expressed their concerns.
Don Wanyama, the senior press secretary of the president, Yoweri Museveni, said: “We have the penal code that already handles issues of unnatural sexual behaviour, so there is no law coming up.”
Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s state minister for ethics and integrity, said the bill had his personal backing. “Certainly I support the bill. We can’t allow the recruitment and promotion of homosexuality in Uganda. It’s [a] principle,” he said.
Lokodo has previously described homosexuality as “not natural to Ugandans” and claimed there was “a massive recruitment [campaign in schools]”.
Backers of the proposed new law say it would target the “promotion” of homosexuality.
Hate crimes against gay people, including physical and sexual assault, blackmail and extortion, are common in Uganda but most victims are too fearful to go to the police, according to rights groups.
Campaigners say existing laws are also used to discriminate against LGBT people, making it harder for them to get a job or promotion, rent housing or access health and education services. Many flee to neighbouring countries where discrimination, though still acute, is less severe.
Earlier this month, Brian Wassa, a gay activist and paralegal, died of injuries sustained in an attack at his home in Jinja, eastern Uganda. Wassa is the fourth LGBTI activist to have been killed in the past three months, say campaigners.
Nicholas Opiyo, a Kampala-based human rights lawyer, said Ugandan politicians were making “careless remarks that have real-life implications for hundreds of Uganda’s LGBTQI community, who are already facing grave societal dangers”.
Amnesty International warned the attempt to change the law would create more hatred in a homophobic environment.
Uganda’s parliament is in recess but those backing new legislation will seek permission to introduce a bill when lawmakers next meet at the end of the month.
Clare Byarugaba, an LGBT activist based in Kampala, the capital, said it would be wrong to underestimate the resilience and strength of the gay community in Uganda. “We fought so hard against legalised homophobia and discrimination [in 2014], and we shall do the same if they introduce another law,” she said.
Claims that homosexuality is un-African are common on the continent, though contradicted by many historians and experts.
In Kenya, judges said existing laws on homosexuality represented the values and views of the country. In Tanzania, authorities in Dar es Salaam, the biggest city, have launched crackdowns on gay people in the past few years. In the most recent, the city’s governor called on citizens to identify gay people so they could be arrested, forcing hundreds into hiding.
However, there has been progress elsewhere, including Angola, which decriminalised gay sex in January. In March, the high court in Botswana heard a case brought by campaigners challenging the constitutionality of a law punishing same-sex relations.
Earlier this year, Brunei caused an international outcry over plans to impose the death penalty for gay sex, backtracking only after intense global criticism.