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Uganda Civil Rights Coalition Denounces Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

October 23rd, 2009

A coalition of twenty-two Ugandan professional and civil rights advocacy groups have joined together to denounce (PDF: 52KB/4 pages) the barbaric Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009 that was introduced before Parliament last week. The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law describes the bill as not just an “anti-homosexuality” bill, but also as “the ‘Anti Civil Society Bill,’ the ‘Anti Public Health Bill,’ or the ‘Anti-Constitution Bill,'” or more specifically, “the Anti Human Rights Bill.” And they liken the bill’s measures with some of the more repressive practices of the Idi Amin era.

The coalition points out eight specific constitutional articles which the proposed bill violates, and a long list of people who would be put at risk of serious criminal penalties should the bill pass. This list includes not only LGBT people themselves, but also parents, teachers, landlords, doctors, human rights activists, religious counselors, publishers, and even Internet cafe operators.

The proposed bill would:

  • Reaffirm the lifetime sentence currently provided upon conviction of homosexuality, and extends the definition from sexual activity to merely “touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.”
  • Create a new category of “aggravated homosexuality” which provides for the death penalty for “repeat offenders” and for cases where the individual is HIV-positive.
  • Criminalizes all speech and peaceful assembly for those who advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens in Uganda with fines and imprisonment of between five and seven years.
  • Criminalizes the act of obtaining a same-sex marriage abroad with lifetime imprisonment.
  • Adds a clause which forces friends or family members to report LGBT persons to police within 24-hours of learning about that individual’s homosexuality or face fines or imprisonment of up to three years.
  • Adds an extra-territorial and extradition provisions, allowing Uganda to prosecute LGBT Ugandans living abroad.

The coalition concludes:

In sum, the Bahati Bill is profoundly unconstitutional. It is a major stumbling block to the development of a vibrant human rights movement in Uganda, and a serious threat to Uganda’s developing democratic status. If passed, this law would not only prove difficult to implement, it would also consume resources and attention which would be better directed at more pressing issues of human rights abuse, corruption, electoral reform, domestic relations and freedom of the press.

Regardless of our personal moral beliefs and values, we the undersigned organisations are standing up in defence of Democracy, our Constitution and its enshrined principles of human dignity, equality, freedom and justice for all.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Anti-Homosexuality or Anti-Human Rights Bill?
Statement from the
Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law

Hon. Bahati’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill which was tabled in Parliament on October 14, 2009, and is currently before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament covers much more than the title alone proclaims. A much better title for this bill would have been the ‘Anti Civil Society Bill, the ‘Anti Public Health Bill,’ or the ‘Anti-Constitution Bill.’ Perhaps more simply it should be called the Anti Human Rights Bill. As a matter of fact, this bill represents one of the most serious attacks to date on the 1995 Constitution and on the key human rights protections enshrined in the Constitution including:

  • Article 20: Fundamental rights and freedoms are inherent and not granted by the State
  • Article 21: Right to Equality and Freedom from discrimination
  • Article 22: The Right to Life (the death penalty provisions)
  • Article 27: The Right to Privacy
  • Article 29: Right to freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association (this includes freedom of speech, Academic freedom and media freedom)
  • Article 30: Right to Education
  • Article 32: Affirmative Action in favour of marginalised groups and
  • Article 36 on the Rights of Minorities

Let us think for a moment of who — quite apart from the homosexuals it claims as its target — this bill puts at risk:

  • any parent who does not denounce their lesbian daughter or gay son to the authorities: Failure to do so s/he will be fined Ush 5,000,000/= or put away for three years;
  • any teacher who does not report a lesbian or gay pupil to the authorities within 24 hours: Failure to do so s/he will be fined Ush 5,000,000/= or put away for three years in prison;
  • any landlord or landlady who happens to give housing to a suspected homosexual risks seven years of imprisonment;
  • any Local Council I – V Chairperson or Executive member who does not denounce somebody accused of same-sex attraction or activity risks imprisonment or a heavy fine;
  • any medical doctor who seeks to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS through working with what are known as most at risk populations, risks her or his career;
  • all civil society leaders, whether in a Community Based Organisation, NGO, or academic institution; if their organisations seek to have a comprehensive position on sexual and reproductive health, they risk seeing their organisations closed down;
  • any human rights activist who seeks to promote an understanding of the indivisibility and inalienability of human rights would be judged to be promoting homosexuals and homosexuality, and be punished accordingly;
  • any religious leader who seeks to provide guidance and counselling to people who are unsure of their sexuality, would be regarded as promoting homosexuality and punished accordingly;
  • any Member of Parliament or other public figure who is sent a pornographic article, picture or video will become vulnerable to blackmail and witch-hunts;
  • any media house that publishes ‘pornographic’ materials risks losing its certificate of registration and the editor will be liable to seven years in jail;
  • any internet café operator who fails to prevent a customer from accessing a pornographic website, or a dating site, could be accused of ‘participating in the production, procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating and publishing of pornographic materials for purposes of promoting homosexuality’; their business licence could be revoked and they themselves could land in prison.
  • any Person alleged to be a homosexual is at risk of LIFE IMPRISONMENT and, in some circumstances, the DEATH PENALTY

In short, this bill targets everybody, and involves everybody: it cannot be implemented without making every citizen spy on his or her neighbours. The last time this was done was in the Amin era, where everyone very quickly became an ‘enemy of the state’. It amounts to a direct invasion of our homes, and will promote blackmail, false accusations and outright intimidation of certain members of the population. Do Ugandans really want to mimic the practices of the Khartoum regime? Have we already forgotten the sex police of Apartheid South Africa, who smashed their way into people’s bedrooms in an attempt to prevent inter-racial sex?

As Civil Society organisations we condemn all predatory sexual acts (hetero or homosexual) that violate the rights of vulnerable sections of our society such as minors and people with disabilities. However, the Bill lumps “aggravated homosexuality” together with sexual acts between consenting adults in order to whip up sentiments of fear and hatred aimed at isolating sexual minorities. By so doing, the state fails in its duty to protect all its citizens without discrimination.

The bill also asserts Extra Territorial jurisdiction. In other words, all of the offences covered by the bill can be applied to a Ugandan citizen or permanent resident who allegedly commits them outside the country. Thus homosexuality and/or its ‘promotion’ are added to the very short list of offences which fall in the ‘political offences’ category. It joins treason, misprision of treason, and terrorism as offences subject to extra-territorial jurisdiction. Clearly, this is out of all proportion in relation to the gravity of the act.

On top of these day-to-day considerations about everybody’s safety and security, let us consider what this bill will do for civil society organisations in Uganda which seek to have a critical voice and to engage in issues of global concern. One of the objectives of the bill is to prohibit the licensing of organizations which allegedly ‘promote homosexuality.’ Thus, for example, any organisation which talked about anal sex as part of a campaign of HIV prevention can be affected. Had this bill been in place earlier this year, no Ugandan could have participated in the World AIDS meeting held in Mexico to discuss HIV prevention.

And what about our standing in the eyes of the world? The Bill calls for Uganda to nullify any international treaties, protocols, declarations and conventions which are believed to be ‘contradictory to the spirit and provisions’ of the bill. In reality, this would involve Uganda withdrawing from:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its protocols;
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women;
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child, and
  • The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

We note that Uganda is current Chair of the UN Security Council which operates with the UN Charter and UDHR as guiding principles. It is also current Chair of the Commonwealth and a signatory to the African Union’s Constitutive Act which has as its premise the promotion and respect of human rights. In 2009 and 2010 it is hosting AU Summits. What will happen to Uganda’s hard-won role on the global stage if it nullifies its international and regional human rights commitments? Uganda cannot wish away core human rights principles of dignity, equality and non-discrimination, and all Ugandans will pay a heavy price if this bill is enacted. We will have bargained away our hard-earned rights and freedoms as well as our right to challenge the State and hold it accountable for the protection of these rights.

In sum, the Bahati Bill is profoundly unconstitutional. It is a major stumbling block to the development of a vibrant human rights movement in Uganda, and a serious threat to Uganda’s developing democratic status. If passed, this law would not only prove difficult to implement, it would also consume resources and attention which would be better directed at more pressing issues of human rights abuse, corruption, electoral reform, domestic relations and freedom of the press.

Regardless of our personal moral beliefs and values, we the undersigned organisations are standing up in defence of Democracy, our Constitution and its enshrined principles of human dignity, equality, freedom and justice for all.

Kampala, 23 October 2009

  • African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF)
  • Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA)
  • Advocates for Public International Law in Uganda (APILU)
  • Center for Land Economy and Rights of Women (CLEAR-Uganda)
  • Centre for Women in Governance (CEWIGO)
  • Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA)
  • East & Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
  • Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-U)
  • Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE)
  • Human Rights Awareness & Promotion Forum
  • Human Rights & Peace Centre (HURIPEC), Faculty of Law, Makerere University
  • Integrity Uganda
  • International Refugee Rights Initiative
  • Mentoring and Empowerment Programme for Young Women (MEMPROW)
  • MIFUMI Project
  • National Association of Women’s Organisations in Uganda (NAWOU)
  • National Coalition of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (NACWOLA)
  • Refugee Law Project (RLP), Faculty of Law, Makerere University
  • National Guidance & Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NGEN+)
  • Spectrum Uganda
  • Uganda Feminist Forum
  • Women’s Organisation & Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA)

For further information please contact the coalition at kalendenator@gmail.com.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Comments

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AJD
October 23rd, 2009 | LINK

I wrote my congressman a letter about the law and the role that Scott Lively, Don Schmierer and Caleb Brundidge played in it and would encourage other readers to do the same. And make sure it’s a letter, not an email, as letters are more likely to be read.

Howie
October 23rd, 2009 | LINK

well it’s refreshing to see the groups coming together and working towards this cause, of note the christian groups as well.

They have a facebook group:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=198541255168&ref=mf

Cooperation is KEY in this matter.

Yes, yes yes

H

GreenEyedLilo
October 23rd, 2009 | LINK

This is terrific. Exodus may not be interested in cleaning up after their part of this mess, but I am so glad that other organizations, including Christian ones, are stepping up. Thank you. Hope we can keep the pressure on; hope this bill dies.

Burr
October 23rd, 2009 | LINK

I really don’t understand how anyone there couldn’t see how wrong this is purely from a constitutional perspective. Hate is that blinding.

Richard W. Fitch
October 23rd, 2009 | LINK

Burr, it is quite simply – religious dogma always out trumps civil law, especially in a cultural which is engaged both in civil and religious warfare.

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