March 13th, 2010
Not only is this major news, but it was carried exclusively in Uganda’s state-owned New Vision, which is the largest daily newspaper in Uganda. The statement was released on Tuesday, but with the non-descriptive headline of “Position of ICRCU” [sic], I didn’t notice its importance. (GayUganda also missed the statement when it came out.)
The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) is a coalition composed of the supreme heads of Uganda’s largest officially-recognized religions: Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims, Christian Orthodox and Seventh-Day Adventists. Among the Council’s goals are to “promote non-violence, peaceful coexistence and respect for human rights.” But with respect to the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill that is now before Parliament, the IRCU’s position had been in direct conflict with their stated goal. Shortly after the anti-gay bill was introduced into Parliament last fall, the IRCU met with a Parliament committee and strongly supported for the bill, although some of the individual council members expressed reservations over the death penalty. This became the official position of the Ugandan Anglican Church, while the head of Uganda’s Roman Catholics called for the bill to be rejected altogether.
Now, with this latest statement from the IRCU, it appears that the Council’s position has evolved toward a position which is closer to rejecting the bill. It’s unclear that they reject the bill entirely — they throw in the caveat that “we recognize the need to improve on the Penal Code as it has gaps which can be addressed by some provisions contained in the proposed Bill” — this statement may well be interpreted politically as a rejection. Despite the strong prejudices and vitriol expressed in the statement (they openly call for another vigilante campaign in point #7), it is nevertheless a notable criticism of the proposed legislation. Here’s the statement:
IRCU is an initiative that brings together different religious institutions to address issues of common concern.
Its membership comprises of the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda, the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, the Church of Uganda, the Uganda Orthodox Church and the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Vision: A divinely Peaceful, prosperous and HIV/AIDS free Uganda
We the Council of Presidents of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) gathered this 10th day of February, 2010, at IRCU Secretariat;
Having read and considered carefully the provisions in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill yet to be debated by Parliament;
Aware of our mandate to nurture and protect the moral fibre of our society, guided by the Holy Scriptures of the religions we subscribe to;
Hereby state that:
1. The Bible, the Quran and other Holy Teachings treat homosexuality as a sin. Both the Bible and Qur’an are categorical in their objection to same sex relationships (Lev. 18:22; Surah Ash’shura 26:165-166). Homosexual acts are contrary to the natural divine law, and under no circumstance can be approved.
2. The IRCU Council of Presidents, therefore, condemns homosexuality as an undesirable evil that should not be allowed in our society.
3. Our religious teachings promote respect, compassion and sensitivity. We, therefore, condemn the sin but welcome the sinners to confess, repent and seek a new beginning. This is based on the belief that all people are called by God to fulfill His will in their lives; IRCU, therefore, decries the proposed death penalty and life imprisonment in the proposed Bill as unwarranted. We believe homosexuals need conversion, repentance, support, and understanding and love in order to abandon their practices and return to God fully.
4. Since the proposed death penalty and life imprisonment do not provide the sinner an opportunity to repent, hence falling short of compassion to those who need conversion, repentance, support and hope, they are unnecessary.
5. Even the proposal to prosecute those who fail to disclose information regarding homosexual acts is inconsistent with the trust, confidentiality and professional ethics of persons such as parents, priests, counselors, teachers, doctors and leaders, to whom the sick, troubled and repentant sinners turn in search of support and advice for rehabilitation. The proposed law does not provide for the rehabilitation of repentant homosexuals. Yet as Religious Leaders, we are mandated to reach out to all people of God in a show of love and compassion (Mt. 9:10-13). The proposed Bill also has the potential to destroy the family as it is likely to undermine the important role of parents in providing guidance to their children.
6. Additionally, in our view the proposed Bill may not be called for considering that acts of sodomy are already condemned under section 145 of the Penal Code. However, we recognize the need to improve on the Penal Code as it has gaps which can be addressed by some provisions contained in the proposed Bill.
7. We the Council of Presidents of the Inter – Religious Council of Uganda, therefore, advise government, and all well-meaning groups and individuals to take remedial measures against this evil that has crept into our society by:
a. Exposing the people and organizations funding homosexuality in the country;
b. Providing enough information on recruitment and funding to the public in the interest of transparency and accountability;
c. Establishing facts on homosexuality and gay activities in Uganda and publishing a brochure which IRCU can distribute through its structures;
d. Emphasizing our core cultural and religious values and undertaking moral education in schools; and
e. Counteracting the distortion and misrepresentation of the debate on homosexuality by the media.
His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga: Archbishop of the Uganda Orthodox Church; Chairperson, IRCU Council of Presidents
His Grace the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi: Archbishop of the Church of the Province of Uganda/Member IRCU Council of Presidents
Pr. Dr. John Kakembo
President, Seventh-day Adventist Uganda; Union/ Member IRCU Council of Presidents
His Eminence Sheikh Shaban R. Mubaje: Mufti of Uganda/ Member IRCU Council of Presidents
His Grace Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga
Archbishop of Kampala Archdiocese
Member IRCU Council of Presidents
As I said, it’s difficult to get to the bottom line in this message, but there are some encouraging elements to this. First, while this is still a deeply homophobic and ill-informed document, it represents the strongest criticism yet of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by Uganda’s mainline religious leaders. Catholics, Anglicans and Muslims together make up almost 90% of Uganda’s religious adherents.
It is also significant that this statement was published in full in the state-owned New Vision newspaper. Not only is it Uganda’s largest newspaper, but it can be reasonably assumed that New Vision’s content is closely monitored by the government. While Uganda has the trappings of a democracy, it is effectively a one-party state which has been ruled continuously for twenty-four years by President Yoweri Museveni and his New Resistance Movement (NRM). One reflection of New Vision’s short leash with the government is the fact that despite the tremendous controversy the bill has drawn both inside and outside of Uganda, New Vision has been almost completely silent on the controversy. In fact, their reporting has been so scant that if one were to rely solely on New Vision for information about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, one might be left with the impression that there is no such bill before Parliament. New Vision, despite being Uganda’s largest mass-circulation newspaper, has been almost completely missing in action on this story.
[Update: Another significant point to notices is that this statement repeats a line others have put forward as possible justification for dropping the bill. “In our view the proposed Bill may not be called for considering that acts of sodomy are already condemned under section 145 of the Penal Code,” they say in point #6. This has been put forward by other less prominent critics as a face-saving way out of the mess by pointing out that Ugandan law already criminalizes homosexuality, and it also criminalizes child sexual abuse and rape in gender-neutral terms. While this line of objection comes across as very weak to western ears (slanderously equating, as it does, homosexuality with pedophilia and other sex crimes), when raised in the context of how the debate surrounding the proposed legislation has been framed in Uganda until now, it would be a serious mistake to overlook its importance. The IRCU is now the most prominent body to raise this particular objection.]
These two three factors are encouraging signs, which may help to explain something else I’ve noticed but haven’t publicly asked until now: Where is the bill itself? When Parliament returned from recess in February, it was expected to be near the top of Parliament’s business in the Legal Affairs and Presidential Affairs committees. Some six weeks have passed, and we still have heard of no action on this supposedly urgent, high-priority bill from either committee.
One possible explanation for this inaction may well be the massive landslides that Uganda has been grappling with in the Bubuda district in eastern Uganda on March 3. While we’ve been hearing a lot about the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes in the west, Uganda’s media has been consumed with their own natural disaster at Mt. Elgon near the Kenyan border which has claimed at least 300 lives.
But that doesn’t explain the delay through February. There is now some speculation that there may well be a conscious slow-down on the measure, as “suggested” by President Museveni at January’s meeting of the ruling party’s Executive Council at State House Entebbe.
If the bill is not passed into law, the next more likely scenario would be for the bill to die a quiet, unannounced death. It is inconceivable that Parliament would vote to defeat the measure, and making an official announcement of its withdrawal would likely inspire political unrest ahead of the 2011 elections. Even though Uganda’s Electoral Commission is packed with Museveni’s supporters and the fairness of the upcoming elections is very much in doubt, such unrest would only serve to further stain Museveni’s rather shaky reputation as a reformer. Museveni is expected to run for another five year term as president. If the 66-year-old President completes that term, the “democratic reformer” will have ruled Uganda for an unprecedented thirty uninterrupted years.
It’s difficult and perhaps foolhardy to try to read the tea leaves in Uganda politics — especially by a foreigner some 9,5000 miles and ten time zones away — but I don’t believe that we will ever see this bill officially “killed.” It also appears that Museveni doesn’t have the stomach to incur worldwide condemnation by passing this law, not now when his government is already under heightened scrutiny in advance of its upcoming elections. Instead, after observing what is going on in Uganda’s state-owned media, coupled now with this statement by Uganda’s most influential religious leaders, it appears increasingly possible that this bill may remain in the two committees (most notably, in the Presidential Affairs committee) to be “studied” and “revised” for a very, very long time.
[Hat tip: GayUganda]
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