Don’t Be Fooled By Changes To Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law
February 5th, 2010
BBC is reporting again what so many other media outlets have said over the past several months, that Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill will likely be changed before Parliament takes it up again for its second reading. There really isn’t much new here, so don’t get too excited. We’ve been hearing these suggestions since October but the only hints of change have been to drop the death penalty. Given the broad scope of the bill, that’s barely tinkering around the edges. Pardon me while I repeat myself, but we must never loose sight of the breathtaking scope of the bill. In its current form, it would:
- Expand the definitions for homosexual acts, making conviction easier. Current law requires evidence of penetration. The new law would expand the definition of homosexual activity to”touch(ing) another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.” Touching itself is defined as “touching—(a) with any part of the body; (b) with anything else; (c) through anything; and in particular includes touching amounting to penetration of any sexual organ. anus or mouth.”
- Affirm Uganda’s lifetime imprisonment for those convicted of homosexuality.
- Define a new crime of “aggravated homosexuality” for those who engage in sex with someone under the age of 18, who are HIV-positive, who is a “repeat offender” (so broadly defined as to include anyone who has had a relationship with more than one person, or who had sex with the same person more than once), or who had sex with a disabled person (consensual or not). The penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” is death by hanging.
- Require anyone arrested on suspicion of homosexuality to undergo HIV testing to determine the individual’s qualification for prosecution of “aggravated homosexuality.”
- Criminalize “attempted homosexuality” with imprisonment for seven years.
- Criminalize “promoting” homosexuality with fines and imprisonment for between five and seven years. This overly-broad provision would criminalize all speech and peaceful assembly for those who advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens in Uganda . It would also criminalize any attempt to repeal or modify the law in the future, as those moves could also be seen as “promoting” homosexuality.
- Criminalize “aiding and abetting homosexuality” with seven years imprisonment. This provision could be used against anyone extending counseling, medical care, or otherwise providing aide gay people.
- Criminalize the act of obtaining a same-sex marriage abroad with lifetime imprisonment.
- Add 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 for up to three years.
- Penalize people who run “brothels” with five to seven years imprisonment for renting to LGBT people. However, it defines a brothel as “a house, room, set of rooms or place of any kind for the purposes of homosexuality” instead of the more normal definition of a place where commercial sex work takes place. Anyone’s bedroom would be a “brothel” under this definition, placing landlords and hotel owners in jeopardy for renting to LGBT people.
- Add an extra-territorial and extradition provisions, allowing Uganda to prosecute LGBT Ugandans living abroad.
- Void all international treaties, agreements and human rights obligations which conflict with this bill.
So let’s not pretend that their talk of changing the bill is at all meaningful. But that is what the Ugandan government appears intent on doing: drop the death penalty, maybe tinker with a few other provisions and pass the bulk of the legislation into law. And right now, that appears inevitable.
The only real question remaining is whether President Yoweri Museveni will sign the bill into law. It is widely believed that the bill’s introduction as a Private Member’s bill rather than an official government bill is mere theater, requiring the same suspension of disbelief it takes to think of Ugandaas a functioning democracy. The government can claim that it had nothing to do with the bill (which it does) while continuing to defend it as an exercize in Uganda’s national sovereignty (which it does) — all of which plays very well with its intended audiences in Uganda. MB DAvid Bahati, who interoduced the bill, has been pillaried for doing so. But he’s just an actor, and to blame him for the bill is like blaming Anthony Hopkins for mass murder. But the final outcome, as is true with all dramas, depends on where the director wants to take this sad play, and that director is Mr. Museveni himself.
There’s a very good reason Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned Museveni by name at yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast. She spoke to truth that everyone knows but many haven’t acknowledged yet. It’s a difficult thing for them to do. After all, Museveni has been widely praised in the west as a political reformer. But Uganda is, practically speaking, a one-party state where Museveni routinely denies media access to opposition politicians, arrests peaceful opposition demonstrators, charges news reporters with libel when they write critical stories about him, and packs the supposedly independent Electoral Commission with his cronies.
So to say that he’s a reformer who upholds the principles of democracy and freedom, you’d have to ignore the fact that he has held onto power for twenty-four years and he’s not leaving anytime soon. Clinton, by mentioning him by name, broke the cognitive dissonance that Museveni’s supporters and apologists in the west have clung to for so long, and she revealed the simple truth to it all: It all depends on Museveni.